Dry mouth and COVID-19 face masks
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is not just uncomfortable. If left untreated, dry mouth may lead to oral complications with long lasting effects on your general health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
Dry mouth – a symptom or a cause?
But dry mouth is a symptom, not a cause. In some cases, it is hard to tell what causes dry mouth. We do know that dry mouth is caused by damaged salivary glands and by reduced saliva production. This can be due to radiation treatment, Sjögren’s syndrome, trauma, infection and other known reasons. The best dry mouth treatment resulting from these conditions would be to stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva. This can be done by using the SaliPen device to naturally electro stimulate the glands and bring dry mouth relief. However, for many people suffering from dry mouth syndrome, the cause is not clear. Some feel dry mouth at night only, while others get this feeling periodically and cannot pinpoint a specific medical condition, time or activity that might be the cause.
COVID-19 mask and dry mouth study
A scientific article published on August 2021 reveals more reasons and causes of sudden dry mouth. The article describes a connection between wearing a face mask for personal protection and due to COVID-19 regulations, and the self-perceived feeling of dry mouth. The study described in the article looks at the health-related issues of dry mouth by face mask effect, and at the bad breath side effect of wearing different types of face masks for different durations. The findings of the study reveal that COVID-19 mask may be what causes a feeling of dry mouth.
The article discusses how wearing a mask is likely to change the way we breathe, from breathing through the nose to breathing through the mouth. Mouth breathing is more likely to produce a self-perceived feeling of severe dry mouth. Interestingly however, other scientific studies did not find that there is less saliva in the mouth or reduced saliva production when breathing through the mouth as compared to nose breathing.
Dry mouth and bad breath
It is known that there is a connection between dry mouth syndrome and bad breath. When the mouth is less humid and more liquids evaporate from the mouth, types of sulphuric materials might be released and these cause bad breath. Thus, the study also looked at how wearing a face mask made people feel that they have bad breath.
In discussing the result of the study, the authors determine that potential “subjective or objective side effects of” wearing a face mask have an effect on the willingness of people to use a face mask. In general, dry mouth is a side effect of many medications that cause dry mouth. However, the public is particularly concerned about the potential health related side effects of wearing a face mask for longer periods of time.
Self-perception of dry mouth
The study found “that wearing a face mask increases the self-perception of dry mouth” and bad breath (halitosis). Self-perception of dry mouth means that the mouth is not necessarily in fact dry, but only that a person has a dry mouth feeling. The study found that the duration and the type of mask worn “affects self-perception” of dry mouth. For example, people wearing an N95 face mask reported a more humid mouth compared to those wearing a surgical or medical face mask (nurses, doctors, dentists, etc). Also, the longer a person wears a surgical mask, the more likely they are to self-perceive they have dry mouth and bad breath.
In conclusion, the use of COVID-19 masks “increased the perception of dry mouth and halitosis” (bad breath). However, the study concludes that whether the mouth is indeed dryer and bad breath is indeed increased as a result of wearing a face mask, is still an unanswered question that needs to be further studied.
So can wearing a face mask cause dry mouth? From this study we may learn that If you suffer from the feeling of dry mouth, it may be the result of wearing a face mask. Of course, removing a face mask is not a remedy for dry mouth. Masks are mandatory in many situations according to COVID-19 regulations, and we cannot risk yourself and others by not wearing one. But we now know there is a connection between the mask, our feeling of dry mouth and bad breath.
Article published August 2021 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Link to full text article: COVID-19 Pandemic: Effect of Different Face Masks on Self-Perceived Dry Mouth and Halitosis
This blog post was reviewed and approved for publication by Dr. Andy Wolff, Dentist and Specialist in Oral Medicine