Does wearing a mask give you bad breath?

Face masks have become mandatory in many countries. People are not allowed to go to public places without a cloth, surgical, or N95 mask on. Through this simple step, the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is slowed down and the number of cases controlled.  

There are different kinds of face masks that you can use: cloth, surgical and N95 masks. Face masks have become so marketable that fashionable cloth masks are currently being offered by the biggest fashion brands. 

Surgical and N95 masks likewise have high demand from healthcare workers and the general public. At the start of the pandemic, there was a shortage of surgical and N95 masks, prompting wearers to reuse their N95 masks despite the risk of contamination. Fortunately, N95 mask manufacturers have ramped up production and are now able to meet the demand for N95 masks from shoppers.  

Types of face masks

Surgical masks 

Surgical masks are loose-fitting face masks that serve as a physical barrier between the user and harmful pathogens in the environment. Surgical masks are disposable and should never be shared. They may be called isolation, dental or medical masks. 

Surgical masks are sold in different thicknesses and have different liquid protection properties. These properties determine how breathable the mask is and how well it protects the user.

When worn correctly, a surgical mask blocks large droplets, sprays, and splashes that may contain bacteria and viruses. It prevents germs from getting into your nose and mouth and eventually your lungs. Surgical masks also reduce other people’s exposure to respiratory secretions. 

While surgical masks block large droplets and sprays, they do not block small airborne particles. Furthermore, they do not give complete protection due to their loose fit, allowing some particles to pass through the sides of the mask.

Surgical masks are single-use items and should be treated as such. If your surgical mask is damaged or visibly dirty, remove it and discard it properly. 

N95 masks

An N95 mask is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that filters at least 95 percent of airborne particles that may carry germs. The N95 mask is designed to give the user a close facial fit free from air leaks. The edges of an N95 mask form a seal over the user’s nose and mouth.

N95 masks are disposable PPEs that should only be worn once. If there is decontamination equipment available, an N95 mask may be reused after it has been properly decontaminated. 

Why you need to wear a face mask

There are several reasons why you should wear a cloth, surgical, or N95 mask. Read on to know why you should start wearing a face mask too.

  • It protects those around you. Wearing a cloth, surgical, or N95 mask protects your close contacts from respiratory droplets that are produced when you cough, sneeze or even talk. If you have COVID-19, your N95 mask blocks your droplets from infecting others. An N95 mask, along with other types of face masks, serves as a barrier that prevents the virus from escaping and landing on another person. 
  • You may not know that you are contagious. At the start of the pandemic, face masks were only recommended for those infected with the virus. However, when it became clear that those who have not yet developed symptoms and those that never have symptoms of the disease are still contagious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged everyone to make use of a cloth mask when in public.
  • A surgical or N95 mask protects you too. In fact, N95 masks are worn by medical workers when looking after COVID-19 patients as an N95 mask filter out airborne particles carrying the virus and prevents them from passing through the tight edges of the N95 mask. 
  • When more people use a face mask, the harder it is for the virus to propagate and spread. So whether you are the source of the virus or you are a potential receiver, a surgical or N95 mask stops the virus from escaping an infected person and contaminating another one nearby.

Face masks and bad breath

It’s hard not to smell your own breath when you are wearing an N95 mask. Because an N95 mask has tight edges and a close facial fit, you’re bound to smell odors you wouldn’t normally notice. This pandemic has made people realize a lot of things, and one of them unfortunately is that wearing an N95 mask could lead to bad breath.

If wearing your N95 mask for hours has made you wonder if you actually have halitosis (bad breath) all this time without knowing it, there is a chance you’re right.

Without an N95 mask or any kind of face mask, you may not notice your bad breath. When an N95 mask covers your mouth and nose, the concentration of your breath is increased, letting you smell odors you didn’t know existed. 

How to get bad breath from wearing face masks

Your mouth has bacteria that stay there all the time. When you breathe through an N95 mask, the moisture produced by the bacteria is trapped in the fabric of the N95 mask. Once the droplets are dried out, they leave a certain odor in your N95 mask.

You might also be breathing through your mouth when using an N95 mask which leads to drying of your oral cavity. A dry mouth, paired with insufficient intake of fluids, contributes to halitosis.

To know if you have halitosis or it’s just the odor of your N95 mask, take off your N95 mask and breathe through your mouth and onto your hands. You will not smell the odor if it is only due to the N95 mask. But if you smell the odor on your hands, then you might have halitosis all along.

How to deal with bad breath

To minimize odor from wearing an N95 mask or other types of face masks, see your dentist regularly for prophylaxis and to receive treatment for any tooth decay or gum disease.

It is also important to floss your teeth and brush your tongue. The tongue is a source of bad breath as most bacteria live there.

Furthermore, you have to be mindful of your diet. Broccoli, red bell pepper, and parsley are known to help in reducing bad breath. On the other hand, food high in carbohydrates and sugar increases the occurrence of bad breath.

If you have a dry mouth, sip on the water when possible. You may also try sugar-free mints or gargle with mouthwash to minimize bad breath caused by wearing N95 masks for long periods of time. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. With new variants starting to take the world by storm, it appears like we’ll be wearing N95 masks for several months to come. Don’t worry too much about having bad breath from wearing your N95 mask. See your dentist regularly, change your diet, and keep your mouth moist.

Do not be put off by bad breath and end up not using your N95 mask or surgical mask. At the end of the day, there’s always a way to deal with halitosis. Right now, what’s important is you are fully protected from the coronavirus with the help of your N95 mask.

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