These last several months have been terrible for everyone. So serious that hospitalization or worst has occurred to many from this CV19. As we cope with this situation, doing our best to support friends and family, we take all the mandated steps with isolation, six-feet distancing, avoiding crowds and yes, that perpetual face-mask.
Unfortunately, most mask-wearing follows little proper protocol as medical-grade type masks are single-use, disposable but very few do this. Many will wear their masks for days or weeks and then finally throw these masks away. Some even wash them so they can keep them longer but this breaks down the fibers creating proper filtering issues. There are also the cloth masks which individuals will keep forever.
There are scientific articles debating the true efficacy of a surgical mask even for it’s one-time usage so when individuals wear them indefinitely or wash them then a mask’s efficacy truly diminishes. Do they help? Yes, but how much? They keep droplets from penetrating the mask to your face so there is some truth in mask protection during these times, but what about the bacteria and viruses that can build up on the outside and inside of a mask?
Aside from the real potential of creating a disease “vector” (transmission ability), by touching these contaminated surfaces only to touch another surface, ie, a vector, this bacterial/virus “soup” can start to break down creating an odor.
Just like clothes will start to smell if not maintained and washed regularly, an over-used mask will start to smell also, ie, the beginning of Face-Mask Bad Breath. Certainly, the person wearing the mask can have personal bad breath from poor oral hygiene, medications, some diseases and foods but if they are wearing an old mask, the odor coming from them can become worse. You would think that the mask would actually hold bad breath odor back and to a degree they are correct, but ultimately the exhaled air, or bad air, must escape off the sides of the mask creating a disgusting odor. A small interesting aside about “bad air”. The word MALARIA comes from Old Italian meaning “bad air”, where the Romans thought disease was coming from bad swamp fumes, but little did they know that the problem was the mosquito’s living in the swamps.
Now, this bad air being exhaled from our mouths, into the interior of the mask is not malaria, but it is creating a moist-field inside the mask. A moist field is a perfect “petri dish” for exhaled bacteria to live creating their own odors. This is why the medical paper masks are thrown away after a single use in medical settings, something we should be thinking about. If we have a cloth mask, then regular washing is our best hope knowing that the cloth fibers are breaking down, thereby compromising a mask’s efficacy.
So is FaceMask-Bad Breath real? Yes. That being the case, make sure you personally minimize any bad breath conditions with very good oral hygiene. If you have food odors that compromise your breath, then minimizing this food exposure or more toothbrushing is your best hope here. If you have a persistent and frustrating breath problem, you might want to check with your doctor about the potential of an undetected over-laying disease. Lastly, as much as doctor’s are trying to help with prescriptive medications, many of them also cause the mouth to dry out causing bad breath, too.
Bad breath and face-mask odors is a multi-faceted problem that often takes a multi-faceted approach to minimize those odors.
Steven Jaksha DMD, Odontology, Oral Diseases, Bad Breath Specialist
San Diego, CA