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Dentists say extensive mask wearing can contribute to oral health problems

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It's an unintended consequence of orders to wear face coverings.

Some dental patients are dealing with unusually bad breath, tooth decay, and gum problems.

It's called "mask mouth".

"Yes, wearing the masks are necessary for us to stay safe and healthy and get rid of this virus however there are little things that we can do to eliminate the risks from these problems, and that don't get talked about enough," said Palm Desert periodontist Dr. Peter Warshawsky.

Warshawsky says mask mouth can happen when people, while wearing masks for long periods, breath through their mouths.

This is something many people are inclined to do when wearing facial coverings.

That causes the mouth to become extraordinarily dry, causing food particles and bacteria to become stuck to the teeth, contributing to bad breath and tooth decay.

La Quinta resident Linda Berru says it's not a problem for her because she wears her mask as little as possible.

"I do not like wearing the mask at all. I wear it when I have to and get in and out as quickly as possible," said Berru.

While hearing about it elsewhere, Dr. Warshawsky says he has not yet detected the ailment in his patients.

However, he has noticed oral health problems in his practice which he says can be attributed to the recent 4 month period in which routine exams and cleanings were not allowed because of coronavirus.

Dr. Warshawsky says there are a couple of things you can do to avoid mask mouth.

Stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids and by chewing sugarless gum.

Those two steps, along with more diligent care at home will help keep food particles and bacteria off your teeth.

"Gum chewing, sugar free gum does stimulate salivary flow which again is a very healthy way to be," said the periodontist.

A business owner we spoke with says his employees need to be aware of the potential for experiencing mask mouth because they wear facial coverings all day long.

"I got a lot of guys wearing their masks going into 20 different homes a day doing in-home appliance delivery," said desert visitor Troy Foss.

Dr. Warshawsky also recommends making a conscious effort to more frequently breath through your nose.

Books he recommends on the topic are "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art" by Dr. James Nestor, and "The Oxygen Advantage" by Patrick McKeown.

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Tom Tucker

Tom Tucker is a veteran broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. Learn more about Tom here.

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