Masks and Bad Breath: What Can You Do?

As North Carolina government officials consider making face masks mandatory in public and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone in the United States wear them when they go out in public, face masks will likely become a fairly common fashion accessory.

But what about the bad smell that comes with them?

Many people wearing face masks for prolonged periods of time notice that they start to smell badly and wonder why. The most likely reason is that the person wearing the mask has halitosis (bad breath). Wearing the face mask has just made the individual aware of it because he or she is now exhaling into a cloth that is covering the mouth and nose.

What Is Happening?

Our mouths are filled with natural bacteria that live there all the time. In addition, bacteria is left over from the foods that we eat, and it lives on and between our teeth, on our tongue and in our sinuses. As we breathe out, the moist, malodorous air hits the masks, leaving a stench that is then inhaled by our nostrils.

What Can I Do About It?

  • Focus on your oral hygiene.
  • Increase your teeth brushing to three times a day. This helps reduce plaque, the sticky build-up on your teeth that traps bacteria, as well as remove food particles.
  • Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
  • Floss twice a day. Trapped food particles are a major source of halitosis. Flossing removes the food particles from between your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth out with a mouthwash that kills the germs that cause bad breath.
  • Brush and scrape your tongue. The coating that forms on your tongue can be a source of bacteria. Scraping your tongue can remove food debris, dead cells and bacteria that brushing can’t take care of.
  • Skip the garlic, onions, and other strong foods that cause bad breath. The substances in these foods actually make their way into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs where you breathe them out.
  • Don’t smoke … for many reasons, not only bad breath.
  • Chew sugar-free gum. This stimulates saliva, the mouth’s natural defense mechanism against plaque and acids that cause tooth decay.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth from getting dry.

If you are following these tips and still have problems with halitosis, it may be caused by periodontitis/gum disease, which is a severe infection that can cause tooth loss and other health complications. Bacteria can gather in the pockets at the base of the teeth, creating an odor. Make an appointment with the dentist to address this problem, and you may be referred to a periodontist depending on how severe the problem is.

Keeping Your Face Mask Clean
According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people nearby who can inhale them into their lungs. Research has found that these droplets usually travel around 6 feet.

Wearing cloth face coverings, particularly when social distancing is not possible, can provide an extra layer to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people. When using a cloth face covering, make sure your mouth and nose are fully covered and the mask fits snugly against the side of the face so there are no gaps.

Cloth face masks should be washed after each use. You can include them with your regular laundry. Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting based on the fabric.

When you dry the face mask, use the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry.

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