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mask wearing and dental problems

Mask Mouth

March 13, 2020, marked the day the Coronavirus pandemic directly affected dental offices in our area. We had to shut down except for emergencies.

We opened again two months later to a different dental world.

Not only must we comply with the guidelines of the CDC, but we are also disinfecting, distancing, discussing options/problems/solutions…and wearing masks and protective gear (more than we did before!)

Mask wearing has kept us safer outside of our homes. It has allowed our children to get back to in-person classrooms more safely. It seems to have decreased the spread of this deadly virus.

There are so many positive reasons for wearing a mask, but it does affect our oral health.

Did you know that when you are doing your part and wearing a mask, you could be causing yourself dental issues?

Normally, when you breathe, you do it through your nose. That air is warmed, humidified, and filtered. This is the perfect air for our bodies and for the health of our mouths.

The problem is we have a greater tendency to breathe through our mouths, not our noses, when wearing a mask.

When we breathe through our mouth the air is drying which causes a change in the PH of our saliva. And this changes the type of bacteria present in the mouth.

Here are some of the symptoms and diseases resulting from mouth breathing.:

  • Bad breath
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Erosion of the root surface
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Jaw joint pain

Bad breath. When the mouth becomes dry because of mouth breathing, the normal oral bacteria changes and the odor-causing bacteria can take over.

Gingivitis/Periodontal disease. When hot dry air blows over your skin, it can get red, irritated, and swollen. The same thing happens to the delicate soft tissues in your mouth. The dry air causes your gums to become inflamed and red. The number of bacteria increases and can cause gum infections. This can lead to gingivitis (swollen, red, bleeding gums), and eventually periodontal disease (damage to the soft tissues and bone loss).

Tooth decay. Tooth decay happens when there is sugar, cavity-causing bacteria, and acid. Wearing a mask and mouth breathing sets up a perfect environment for tooth decay. Your saliva helps flush particles off the teeth. When your mouth is dry, the sugars stick to your teeth. A dry mouth allows for an increase of the cavity-causing bacteria and an increase in the acidity of the saliva. The result is more decay!

Erosion and tooth sensitivity. The same factors that cause tooth decay in a dry mouth can cause erosion and tooth sensitivity. Erosion is the wearing away of the exposed root surface, resulting in sensitivity to cold.

Jaw joint pain. Many factors can contribute to pain in the TMJ. But the correlation between mask-wearing and jaw joint pain is becoming an issue for some. Often when wearing a mask, we jut our chins forward without realizing the new position. This forces the facial muscles to hold the lower jaw in a non-rest position and the pulling of the mandible down and forward. Day after day mask-wearing may contribute to headaches, neck pain, tired/sore facial muscles, clicking and popping joints.

No one knows how long we’ll be wearing masks for sure, but they are not going away anytime soon. Are they worth it? We think so. And your dentist can easily help you manage “mask mouth.” Going into your dental office for regular cleanings, x-rays and checkups can help. Drinking more water than you normally do can help, too.

Dr. Jackie Schafer of Colorado Healthy Smiles reminds us all, “We dentists sound like a broken record, but it’s even more important now; be diligent with your home brushing and flossing. Additionally, notice the position of your lower jaw while wearing your mask and continually remind yourself to allow the muscles to relax into a resting position. AND be conscious of breathing through your nose! Nasal air is our first line of defense against mask mouth, it’s our best, and easiest medicine!”

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