The use of face masks and bad breath: a problem more common than what you think

Now that we’ve been wearing face masks almost every day for the last 10 months, people have started to notice their bad breath. Even though you previously were able to ignore this bad smell, now that you can’t escape your own breath while wearing a face mask, you have become aware that it isn’t as fresh as you thought it was.

Halitosis is the medical term used to talk about bad breath, and as a family medicine expert says, this is often the result of decreased saliva production. Zachary Townsend explains that we wash away the bacteria in our mouths during the day when we drink, eat, or brush our teeth. Since we don’t do that during our sleep, our breath tends to smell pretty bad in the morning because the bacteria accumulates.

Another big cause of bad breath is the foods you’re consuming. For example, garlic and onion are often considered the least recommended foods for a first date due to their effects on the smell of your breath. People who suffer from allergies and postnasal drip can also develop halitosis.

If your bad breath doesn’t go away with good oral hygiene, you start to get accustomed to the smell to the point you don’t notice it anymore. This is called chronic halitosis, and some of the most frequent causes include heart and lung issues, teeth, gum, or tonsil diseases, smoking, food regurgitation, tonsil stones, and a Zenker diverticulum.

However, with the use of face masks, bad breath becomes more apparent, and you might notice you have been dealing with this problem for a long time without noticing. If your bad breath doesn’t disappear with good oral hygiene, contacting your primary care physician is recommended. A yearly or bi-yearly dentist visit is also recommended to avoid this problem.

Can other people smell my bad breath through my face mask?

If your face mask is working correctly, the answer should be no. If other people notice your bad breath while wearing a face mask, chances are it’s not working the way it’s supposed to, and you’re unprotected with it.

Face masks are meant to trap respiratory droplets you might be releasing while you breathe, talk, sneeze, or cough. They also work as filters, some with more effectiveness in this regard than others, as we’ll explain later.

One of the main tests used to make sure a face mask is legitimate and performs adequately is what has been known as the candle test, popularized online by the science educator Bill Nye. The test says that if you can effectively blow out a candle with a mask on, it’s not working properly.

Face masks should stop the flow of air into the environment, so if you can blow out air that easily, it means you can also inhale it very easily, and this means the mask is not filtering properly.

The different types of face masks used during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 is caused by a respiratory virus and that means it’s an infectious disease that is transmitted through the inhalation of viral particles. This happens when an infected individual releases respiratory droplets into the environment that contains the virus, and when they reach the respiratory tract of a healthy individual, they become infected.

The main resource to stop the spread of COVID-19 has been the use of face masks, since they can trap the respiratory droplets before they’re being released, and some of them can also very effectively filter out the air to trap these viral particles, which have a very small size. COVID-19 is usually a very mild disease that resembles the flu and can even be asymptomatic, especially in kids and younger people. However, the elderly and other high-risk populations can develop very serious complications due to this disease, which is why everyone in the United States is urged to wear a face mask even when they don’t have any symptoms.

N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, have a very high efficiency when it comes to antiviral filtration, which is why they’re the best face mask for virus protection in the healthcare field. They also have other uses besides filtering out viruses, as they can also filter out dust and smoke, among other particles. The 3M N95 masks in models like the 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and 3M 1860 are some of the most used ones across all work fields.

KN95 masks have a very similar efficiency to N95 masks, although they’re regulated following the Chinese standards for respirators, while N95 masks are manufactured under the standards used in the USA. Other protective items used in the healthcare field include surgical masks and face shields, which offer eye protection as well.

Reusable cloth masks are the type of face mask recommended to be used by the general public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is because the disposable face masks considered crucial for frontline workers and healthcare centers, like the N95 masks, surgical masks, and KN95 masks, have been scarce since the beginning of the pandemic.

Cloth masks are widely available for sale in any store, and people can easily buy them in bulk or wholesale, or even make them at home with accessible materials. Additionally, they’re completely cleanable and reusable, which means they won’t be as scarce as the other options. 

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