Does chewing gum under your mask lower its effectiveness?

The main types of face masks available

To answer the question of whether or not chewing gum under your mask lowers its effectiveness, let’s meet the main types of face masks. Most of these have been very popular this year in the United States, and many people started to buy them in bulk and wholesale. However, each one of them is intended for a specific setting.

N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, are considered the best option for virus protection, particularly in the healthcare setting. They offer very high antiviral filtering properties that are not limited to only viruses like the flu or the coronavirus, but also to other particles like smoke or dust, which makes these masks have many different uses in different work settings.

Some of the most popular and available models are the 3M N95 masks, with some of their most known masks being the 3M 8511, the 3M 8210, and the 3M 1860. KN95 masks, although have a very similar name, are not the same as N95 masks, but they do have some very similar filtering properties.

Surgical masks are the ones healthcare providers use most often, and they protect against fluids coming from the environment, which makes them very useful during surgeries in which fluids can be released at a high pressure. They’re also useful to prevent the user from releasing their fluids.

Lastly, reusable cloth masks are considered the gold standard for the general public. These can be cleaned and reused multiple times, and they can be found for sale very easily in the USA. They can also be made at home with accessible materials and can be designed in smaller sizes for kids over 2 years of age.

Can I chew gum under my face mask?

The problem of having a bad breath while wearing a face mask is real, and we’ll talk about it more in a second. To make wearing a mask more bearable if you have bad breath, you’ve probably turned to chewing gum with a mint smell that leaves your face mask cool and fresh, and making it an almost pleasant experience.

But, chewing gum could harm the effectiveness of your face mask, and there’s a reason for this. You’ve probably heard all the recommendations from experts talking about how face masks shouldn’t be wet or even damp. Most organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend to change your face mask as soon as they are damp, as the effectiveness decreases.

This has to be done for both reusable and disposable face masks, and even though they have different ways of protecting you, and therefore different ways in which their efficacy can decrease, both are negatively affected by moisture.

Respirators like the N95 masks and KN95 masks work by filtering out the airborne particles from the air. Their filtering media usually combines physical filtration with electrostatic filtration, in which charges attract particles with the opposite charge and traps them. When these masks become damp, the charges are eliminated and the efficacy decreases.

Surgical masks also have a filtering layer, although not as effective as those in N95 masks, as we’ll explain above. However, their most inner layer absorbs moisture to prevent the release of respiratory droplets, and with constant use, the layer starts to lose efficacy as it becomes damper. The same thing happens with reusable cloth masks.

Now, you might wonder what all of this has to do with chewing gum, but we promise these two things are related. The dampness on a face mask comes from the respiratory fluids you release while sneezing and coughing, but also with activities that seem much less risky, like just talking and breathing.

If those activities release moisture that can make the mask damp, imagine how much more moisture you will be releasing if you are chewing gum. So, chewing gum might lower the effectiveness of a face mask by making it get damp much more quickly. At that moment, the mask has to be replaced with a new one.

Other activities that might make the mask wet very quickly include exercising, which is why WHO recommends exercising outdoors without a mask on and while staying 6 feet apart from other people at all times. A wet face mask not only decreases its effectiveness but also makes it harder to breathe with it on.

Other ways to fix bad breath under your mask

Halitosis is the term used in medical settings to refer to a bad-smelling breath, which can have multiple causes, some more concerning than others. When we eat, drink, talk, and wash our teeth, microorganisms get washed away. Since we don’t do any of those things during our sleep, we have bad breath in the morning.

Good oral hygiene can be the solution to this problem, or maybe changing the foods you’re consuming. Garlic and onion are known to cause bad breath, as well as lack of saliva production, which is a sign of dehydration. However, if you find that you suffer from chronic halitosis, and none of these things change it, the problem might be deeper. When wearing a face mask, this problem might come to your attention because you can’t escape your breath.

Some frequent causes of chronic halitosis include lung and heart illnesses, smoking, food regurgitation, Zenker diverticulum, teeth, gum, or tonsil diseases, and tonsil stones. It’s a good idea to get a visit to the dentist at least once or twice a year, and if the problem doesn’t go away, visiting your main healthcare provider is recommended.

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