What's behind that mask breath?
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Bad breath behind your mask?
That's unfortunately one of COVID-19's unintended awarenesses.
I’ve been wearing masks daily since 1991, so they don’t feel terribly out of the norm to me. Others say they’ve found masks to make them feel isolated, even slightly cut off. One thing I notice while wearing a mask, it amplifies my awareness of the smell of my breath! And if I’ve noticed this, then you must have noticed too! Let’s improve our selfie smell by paying attention to the root causes.
Anyone that has studied malodorous breath must come to the conclusion that bacteria are key in causing bad breath. With the exception of smelly foods, each of the below items enhances bad breath by causing or allowing bacteria to multiply and flourish. Let’s take a brief look at 12 reasons why your breath may be causing you some discomfort.
1. Brushing and Flossing
It probably makes sense to everyone that if bacteria and their waste are the cause of those sulfury aromas, removing them would be one good way to reduce their effect. The most effective way to remove bacteria is to physically drag them from their hiding places with use of a good brush and floss. Those that we miss, despite our best efforts, can be incapacitated by the right mouth rinse. You need one that kills bacteria.
2. Smelly Foods
I think this one is kind of obvious, and it’s one of few items on our list that is independent of bacteria. Some of the tastiest foods are also some of the stinkiest. Garlic is easy to pick on. Give yourself garlic breath and you're gonna be stuck with it for some time.
3. Eating Sweets
Bacteria are not in our mouths to eat our teeth, or our gum tissue. They are there to eat the stuff we eat. And sugars are the easiest thing on their menu to break down into those sulfur-containing compounds. The little buggers make instant work of the sweetest foods.
4. Low-carb Diets
Not to get into the weeds, but low-carb diets work by getting body chemistry into a state called ketosis. With molecular ketones, (specifically acetone), in your bloodstream, these volatiles are vented off as expired waste in your breath. You can’t eliminate this component of breath and still be in your desired ketonic state. The best recommendations are to cover these odors with gum or mouthwash.
5. Mouth Breathing
Again with the bacteria! Anything that causes their numbers to rise increases your stink factor. Saliva is our best natural defense against oral bacteria. And when the saliva is absent, microbes go wild! You wake up with teeth that feel like they’re wearing socks. Minimizing any cause of dry mouth is a good idea. There are rinses specifically tailored to minimizing dry mouth. Biotine makes a good product.
It is amazing how many common medications list dry mouth as a side effect. And as we stated above, dry mouth = rampant bacteria = yuky breath.
7. Allergies/Stuffy nose
Bacteria are allowed to flourish when they have little cubbies to hide in. Any mucosal inflammation pinches off little hiding places that make the nasal and pharyngeal areas ideal for bacterial colonization. Again, tough to eliminate, but anti-inflammatories and decongestants can help. Nasal flushing is increasing in popularity.
8. Smoking/Chewing Tobacco
Both of these elective habits tend to cause dry mouth, which we know cause an increase of bacterial proliferation. In addition to that “wet ash tray” smell, we are causing an increase in the bacterial sulfur by-products by crippling our own saliva defense.
Drinking alcohol dries out our mouths systemically, by inhibiting our antidiuretic hormone, as well as topically when our tissues are exposed to it. Alcohol is a double-dry whammy.
Who likes the smell of vomit? Gastric reflux is a miniature version of throwing up in your mouth. The stomach acid can wreck about anything, teeth, tissue, vocal chords. It works in combination with bacteria to cause all sorts of stinky trouble.
11. Lack of Saliva
Some people are just cursed with a lack of saliva, but many medications make this condition worse. And as we now know, dry mouths let bacteria rule the space.
12. Mouth Infections/Tooth Decay
BACTERIA! Once again, these are microbe related smells. We think a healthy mouth is one where a patient stands a chance of diminishing numbers of bacteria because one can reach them to eliminate them. When bacteria have invaded beyond surfaces, you can’t do much to remove them. Physical holes in teeth, pockets in between teeth, abscesses, these stink because of bacteria.
Bottom line is that many of the reasons your breath takes on an odor is due to the bacteria in your mouth. What you eat, drink or how you care for your teeth impacts the way in which the bacteria react and smell. When you’ve addressed everything you know to target related to your mouth, it’s time to consider your nasal and pharyngeal spaces. Sinus issues can also be the source of icky smells. From your dentist’s standpoint, we think there’s a lot of wisdom in targeting the items you can control on the list above. If you need help beyond this type of advice, we’d be happy to help you figure it out if we can.