Do Covid Masks Affect Our Oral Health?
With mask wearing likely to be a feature of our lives for a little while yet, your Ipswich dentist addresses this common question
It does seem likely though that the advice is moving from a position of a complete abandoning of the masks to a more cautious approach. In addition to this, opinion polls suggest that a large number of people will continue to wear them anyway, whatever the government’s position.
This seems an opportune time then, to address a question that has been put to us by patients of the Foxhall Dental Practice, and that is whether the wearing of these masks is potentially harmful to our teeth and gums.
We should, first of all, say that we believe that wearing a mask in appropriate situations is helpful in the prevention of infection. You will notice that all of our dentists wear a mask when examining or treating you, irrespective of Covid. This is to prevent cross infection of any airborne disease from dentist to patient and vice versa. Even if there are some potential drawbacks to wearing a mask, our recommendation is that you continue to do so where guidance suggests.
This is a term that has been used to describe the effects of wearing a mask for a moderate to lengthy period of time. We know that they can make you feel hotter than usual and this in turn can lead to premature dehydration. We have discussed before about how a dry mouth enables bacterial growth in the oral cavity which can then contribute to incidences of both tooth decay and, more commonly, gum disease.
This problem might be worsened by the fact that we might be reluctant to remove the mask, even for a few seconds, to take a drink of water. This might be so if you are on a busy plane for several hours for example. Whilst we wouldn’t recommend that you remove the mask for a long time, pulling it down to take a quick drink of water should present minimal risk and will help to prevent ‘mask mouth’ and any risk to your oral health. So whilst the risk of “mask mouth” is small, it’s worth being aware of how prolonged mask use could lead to issues such as a drier mouth than normal.
Few of us find wearing a mask a pleasant experience, and especially for longer periods of time. This can lead to a higher level of anxiety than usual and may not only contribute to a drier mouth but also lead to us clenching or grinding our teeth together. Although this action, also known as ‘bruxism’ more commonly occurs whilst we sleep, it can also happen whilst we are awake if we feel particularly anxious (we suspect a fair few of you were doing that last night at the Euros penalty shoot out!). Teeth grinding can lead to many problems including the wearing down of the enamel on the tooth surface which protects our teeth, and may even lead to cracked or broken teeth in some cases. Try to be aware if you are doing this and take a deep breath and try to relax. If the problem persists then it makes good sense to seek expert guidance from your GP.
Neglecting your teeth
Although it is unlikely that people won’t be brushing their teeth because they are too lazy to remove their masks, it is possible that, because our mouths are covered and our smile hidden, some of us might give less attention to looking after our teeth. Most of you will recognise this as a bad move and also create longer term problems that will not only potentially lead to tooth decay, but may affect the appearance of your teeth with heavier discolouration etc. Make sure that you continue to brush and floss your teeth as you should even if we are to wear masks for a while to come.
When restrictions are lifted
Finally, there will come a time when mask wearing may no longer be required. Some may decide to continue to wear them on buses etc for years to come, but as Covid recedes, others of us will probably gradually relax our mask wearing. With this in mind, some of you may wish to consider having a full oral health check up at an appropriate time. With our smiles visible again, it may also be worth considering cosmetic dental treatment as we start to socialise more often.
Being cautious would be our advice though. Covid is still a big risk and preventing its spread getting out of control is important to all of us and we therefore encourage you to remain sensible and cautious for a while yet whilst looking forward to a full return to normality in the hopefully not too distant future.
For any advice on oral health care or if you have a current problem, please contact our Ipswich clinic by calling the Foxhall Dental Practice on 01473 258396.