Because of COVID-19, face masks are being worn all around the globe. However, it has been found to pose an oral health threat. This is unfortunate, given that wearing a facial covering serves as a key means of preventing the spread of the virus. How can you protect yourself from COVID-19 while still preventing any oral health problems? Continue reading to find out.
The Oral Health Problems Associated with Wearing a Mask
During the battle against COVID-19, a new term has emerged: mask mouth. The condition, which is becoming more prevalent, is even affecting people with no previous history of oral health issues. Whereas poor dental hygiene is a common cause of unhealthy teeth and gums, there is evidence that wearing a mask can have a similar effect.
Understanding Mask Mouth
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing a mask to prevent respiratory droplets from entering the mouth and nose and causing infection. However, the mask contributes to mouth dryness, which encourages bacteria growth. As a key part of the mucosal immune system, saliva serves as a protective barrier and contains antimicrobial components that help fight bacteria.
Here is how having a dry mouth can directly impact oral health:
- Increases tooth decay – Oral bacteria are always present, but they are more attracted to a dry mouth. As they accumulate, they can quickly turn into plaque and release corrosive acids that lead to tooth decay.
- Inflamed gums – If plaque is ignored, it can eventually seep beneath the gum line to cause germ pocket formation and gum bleeding (two warning signs of gingivitis).
- Bad breath – Because of the mask’s close proximity to the face, it quickly becomes obvious that having a dry mouth contributes to bad breath.
- Gum disease – If unaddressed, gingivitis can develop into gum disease (periodontitis), causing irreversible damage that can eventually result in tooth loss.
How to Protect Yourself
Because wearing a mask is essential for preventing the spread of COVID-19, what can you do to protect your teeth and gums? In normal times, it’s recommended that you brush and floss twice a day. However, you may need to step up your efforts. The more frequently you clean your teeth and gums, the harder it will be for bacteria to accumulate.
It’s also helpful to keep some sugar-free gum on hand. The chewing action helps to stimulate saliva production to fight new bacteria growth.
A final way to stay safe is to maintain semi-annual visits to your local dentist for preventive care. In addition to having your teeth cleaned, you’ll receive a thorough examination to make sure there are no signs of oral health issues. If there are any problems, they can be addressed before they mushroom into something bigger.
No one knows how long COVID-19 and the resulting mask protocols will be around. It’s at least empowering to be able to protect yourself without having to worry about a new set of challenges to tackle.
About the Author
Dr. Alan Rauchberg is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. A member of the Academy of General Dentistry and a mentor to incoming dental students, he maintains an ethos of service that benefits his patients and the surrounding community. Dr. Rauchberg provides safe and effective dental care at Rauchberg Dental Group, and he can be reached for more information or to schedule a visit through his website.