It’s quite the reality check. What with face masks required wear for public settings in many communities these days, we’re getting up close and personal with our own breath. And it’s not always a pretty picture. But while some patients are discovering things about their breath that those close to them already knew but avoided mentioning, others are finding that their normally pristine breath may not be so, well, as pristine as they’d thought.
IS IT THE MASK?
Face mask naysayers may want to believe that masks are at fault for oral malodor, and depending on how you look at it, this may, in part, be true. Apparently, when people wear face masks, many breathe through their mouths. This can lead to xerostomia even without a mask. After all, saliva helps wash away bacteria and keeps our oral pH in check. In fact, bacteria will proliferate without the cleansing effect of saliva, resulting in oral malodor and, ultimately, if allowed to continue, a whole host of oral health problems.
But is that mask really to blame rather than the garlic bread you had for lunch? Most health experts agree that mask wearing is simply giving us a taste of our own medicine. It’s usually quite difficult to ascertain if one’s own breath is problematic. But wear a couple of layers of fabric over your face and the problem gets your attention. In fact, it becomes pretty front and center what with your breath being contained and sent up your nostrils rather than out into the atmosphere or onto unsuspecting passersby.
WHAT TO DO?
But most infectious disease experts recommend mask wearing to help stem COVID-19 spread. So, does this mean that in order to stem the COVID-19 tide, patients are consigned to a life of mal odor? Fortunately, there are numerous ways to combat xerostomia. Aside from breathing through the nose and drinking adequate amounts of fluids throughout the day, several products are available to help keep patients’ mouths hydrated. Take for instance, sugarless mints and chewing gum can stimulate the salivary glands.
And there is no shortage of products specifically tailored to address xerostomia. Some formulations actually mimic natural saliva via ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, betaine, and taurine, which help to maintain electrolyte balance and hydration, while an additive lubricant called polyvinylpyrrolidone, forms a protective film over oral mucosa. The combination of these ingredients in an oral rinse, spray, or gel offers deep moisturizing to resolve the most severe symptoms—including oral malodor.
EMBRACE THE MASK
So if your patients are complaining more frequently about oral malodor, it may be due to their mask wearing. Of course, dental hygienists are well positioned to address this issue with their patients and help them get back on track with oral hygiene.
Brushing and flossing at least twice a day is of course required, and brushing the tongue, roof of the mouth, and inner cheeks may also be helpful. Following up with an antibacterial mouthrinse is another good measure.
But many things besides xerostomia can cause bad breath, and hopefully, people are keeping up with the oral care appointments so an appropriate diagnosis can be made.