Can face masks cause bad breath? Experts weigh in on ‘mask mouth’ theory

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 (Photo: Getty Images/ Gallo Images)
(Photo: Getty Images/ Gallo Images)

It’s enough to set your teeth on edge. Could wearing a mask damage your dental health?

A New York dental practice claims wearing the protective gear can lead to “mask mouth”, an umbrella term for inflamed gums, bad breath, decaying teeth and receding gums.

Oral hygienists at One Manhattan Dental practice coined the term after they started seeing a surge in dental problems as a result of widespread use of masks.

“We're seeing inflammation in people's gums that have been healthy forever, and cavities in people who have never had them before,” Dr Rob Raimondi, a dentist at the practice, told British newspaper Daily Mail.

 (Photo: Getty Images/ Gallo Images)
(Photo: Getty Images/ Gallo Images)

But Dr Oelie Van Schalkwyk, dental director of Medicross in Cape Town, says mask coverings wouldn’t be the cause of dental problems.

“We’ve got 160 dentists in our groups and this is the first time I’ve heard of patients developing oral hygiene issues as a result of mask coverings,” he tells YOU. 

Van Schalkwyk says wearing a mask may make you more aware of your breath and it could smell bad if you already have halitosis or a cavity.

But as far as he understands, there’s no scientific explanation to prove wearing masks can result in oral-hygiene issues.

Dentists wear surgical masks for up to eight hours at a time so if masks were really responsible for causing dental problems, they would all have halitosis and tooth decay, he points out.

He emphasises the importance of practising good oral hygiene.

“You need to brush your teeth at least twice a day; use dental floss regularly; and if you do experience halitosis, use an anti-bacterial mouthwash.”

Mask hygiene is important, he adds.

“You breathe, you talk, there are saliva particles in the mix. If you don’t wash your mask regularly, that mask can become dirty.”

According to Van Schalkwyk, who has been in the dental industry for more than 60 years, if masks aren’t washed regularly they can create a breeding ground for bacteria.

“That can definitely cause a bad smell in the mask itself which can possibly be mistaken as bad breath.”

Tips to zap halitosis
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day. When you’re wearing a mask you tend to breathe more through your mouth than your nose, leading to dry mouth, which can result in bad breath.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake.
  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth when wearing a mask.
  • Try to keep your lips as moisturised as possible to prevent licking your lips.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly.
  • Scrape your tongue when brushing your teeth to remove bacteria.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you notice anything unusual, such a bad breath.
  • Regularly wash your non-disposable mask.


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