Mask Mouth, Dry Mouth Impacts Dental Health

September 7, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Mask Mouth, Dry Mouth Impacts Dental Health
Most of us have never had to wear a face mask for extended hours for work or social gatherings until the Covid-19 pandemic occurred. Who would have thought that wearing a mask would become common place? Now, especially with each variant surge, mask recommendations and mandates pervade through every public facet. Mask wearing poses various challenges upon oral health which have been dubbed “mask mouth”. Protection of your oral and dental health is even more important with the challenges of wearing a face mask.

Mask Mouth

Mask mouth is a term initially used by dentists to describe the effects they have seen in their patients during Covid-19. It refers to a group of symptoms that occurs after wearing a face mask for an extended time. Some of the effects include dry mouth, jaw clenching or grinding of your teeth from the stress of wearing a mask, and other concerns.

Dry Mouth

The most common effect of wearing a mask and mask mouth is dry mouth. An increase in dry mouth may happen for several reasons. Wearing a mask often causes you to breathe through your mouth rather than through your nose. The passage of air through your mouth dries out tissues faster.

Mask wearing may cause you to breathe with more short shallow breaths through your mouth contributing to dry mouth. Mask wearing may increase your respiratory rate slightly each minute which contributes to the total volume of air passed in and out through your mouth for each hour a mask is worn and drying out of oral tissues.

Short, shallow breathing also causes you to use your neck and shoulder muscles which is more of a stress state (sympathetic autonomic nervous system). On the other hand, belly breathing is with the diaphragm, which activates more of the rest and relax parasympathetic nervous system. Stress breathing contributes to dry mouth and reduces saliva production.

Several medications like water pills and some antidepressants, radiation treatments, autoimmune disorders, and some lifestyle habits like smoking or vaping contribute to or cause dry mouth. Anyone with these underlying dry mouth concerns needs to be even more diligent about oral care with mask wearing.

Wearing face masks may impact your body’s ability to regulate body temperature as heat can build-up from your mouth, worsen dry mouth and contribute to facial flushing and sweating. Individuals who already struggle with body temperature regulation may need to be more diligent about maintaining mouth hydration and protecting against the effects of dry mouth. Things that may affect body temperature regulation include hormone swings or transition times like pregnancy or menopause, thyroid and cortisol imbalances, or leptin and blood sugar dysregulation.

Dry Mouth Consequences

The consequences of dry mouth are much more than just the uncomfortable dry sticky feeling. Dry mouth contributes to increased risk of dental cavities, bad breath, and tooth sensitivity. It contributes to loss of minerals in teeth, mouth infections with candida, and periodontal or gum disease. A dry mouth may cause a dry or sore throat, dry, cracked or peeling lips, and/or a dry tongue. It may lead to sores within your mouth or on your tongue or even affect swallowing, your speech and ability to talk clearly. Dry mouth may also affect your sense of taste and alter your tolerance to spicy foods or other intense flavors.

Saliva pH Changes

Breathing recycled air with a mask causes a slightly higher concentration of carbon dioxide to oxygen. This does not cause a toxic effect of carbon dioxide, but it does affect saliva pH which makes your mouth more acidic. An acid saliva pH contributes to breakdown in tooth and gum health lending to cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

Basic Tips for Oral Health

Stay hydrated. Sip on water throughout the day. Reduce beverages with alcohol, caffeine, and sugar that affect oral hydration. Xylitol gum may be helpful.

Avoid or reduce sugar-rich foods and processed foods as this greatly contributes to an acidic pH in your mouth. These foods also feed yeast and unwanted bacteria in your mouth that contribute to bad breath, tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Wear a clean mask. Bacteria build-up in masks doesn’t help oral health. Make sure the mask fits properly. Too tight of a mask will cause more mouth breathing.

Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. Brush your tongue. Visit your dentist.

Nutrients for Oral Health

In addition to these basic common-sense tips, use nutrients to support oral health. Note that many of these nutrients listed below also provide widespread support throughout your whole body and aid immune health.

Your mouth needs nutrients like vitamins A, C, and D, several B vitamins, along with calcium, magnesium and coenzyme Q10, to help protect gums, teeth, saliva glands, tongue, and lips.

Support and protect salivary glands and saliva production. Helpful nutrients include omega-3 DHA, and antioxidants like r-alpha lipoic acid, grape seed extract, and lycopene.

Maintenance of good oral flora also requires healthy flora just like your digestive tract. Regularly include beneficial probiotics like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables in your diet and supplement with probiotics like Super Dophilus to support beneficial flora in your mouth. Dry mouth adversely impacts the flora in your mouth and may even affect your gut and immune health.

Your oral health impacts so many things. Make sure to protect against the effects of mask mouth/dry mouth, no matter what age you are. A dry mouth is more than just a nuisance. The mucosal membranes of your mouth along with your tonsils and adenoids are your body’s natural first line of defense against germs. Keep your mouth healthy.

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