How to deal with mask breath

We know face masks are valuable allies in the fight to keep ourselves protected against COVID-19. Scientists are clear about the fact that masks are key to preventing the spread of the coronavirus during the pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases — which some researchers say ranges between 40 to 45 percent of the total (via Annals of Internal Medicine). 

But there are are also unintended consequences to wearing masks for an extended period of time. We can develop MADE (mask-associated dry eye); it aggravates whatever pre-existing skin conditions we might have had before, like maskne or rosacea; and as if we didn't have enough to worry about, masks also can trigger extended spells of bad breath or halitosis.

To be fair, as Texas-based dentist Melissa Santilli tells U.S. News and World Report, "Mask-wearing is just making many become aware of [halitosis]. The bad breath has always been there." Unfortunately, we don't become aware of our own bad breath or halitosis until our noses and mouths have the opportunity to interact more closely — as they do when we have masks on. "When the nose and mouth are trapped in the same small recycled airspace, it is much easier to smell and sense your own bad breath. You are forced to inhale the breath you exhaled," Santilli says. 

However, some dentists disagree and believe the mask itself may be the culprit behind stinky breath.

Is your face mask actually causing mask breath?

A few dentists think that the face coverings themselves are to blame for the bad breath, because face coverings both increase dry mouth and causes a buildup of bad bacteria — which have lead a few dentists to call the bad breath associated with wearing a mask as "mask mouth." "People tend to breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose while wearing a mask," New York-based dentist Marc Sclafani tells the New York Post. "The mouth breathing is causing the dry mouth, which leads to a decrease in saliva — and saliva is what fights the bacteria and cleanses your teeth." Scalfani also claims that people also tend to drink less water when they are masked up, which can add to the problem.

But dentist Kalpesh Bokhara says that mask breath shouldn't be blamed solely on masks. "Breathing through the mouth whilst wearing a mask can certainly dry it out, but I'd question whether this would lead to bad breath or periodontal disease," Bohara says (via Metro). "Healthcare professionals have worn masks for hours at a time during their daily procedures, long before COVID-19 ever reached our shores, and I've never come across a case where mask mouth was a problem."

The real reason for mask breath varies

Mask or no mask, there are many reasons bad breath can develop, and these include having eating or drinking something smelly (think garlic, fish, onions, or spicy food); eating plenty of sweets (because believe it or not the bacteria in your mouth love candy more than you do); or breathing through your mouth, which can cause dry mouth (via CNN).

Bokhara says "If you're worried about your mask affecting the smell of your breath or causing gum disease, my advice would be to follow the same routine as always — try and give up or at least cut down on smoking, avoid snacking, brush twice daily, remember to floss and drink plenty of water. This is generally excellent advice which applies whether you wear a mask for considerable periods of time or whether you're in your own home. A healthy mouth will always smell and look great, regardless," he says.

And if you've done all that, your breath remains a problem, it may be time to make that next dentist appointment.