Bad Breath Under Your Face Mask? 5 Tips For Freshening It Up
If wearing a face mask has made you aware of your own bad breath, you're not alone. More than half of the general population suffers from bad breath (aka halitosis)1, and the concentrated space underneath your mask is almost guaranteed to help you figure out if you're one of them. Thankfully, bad breath can be prevented and treated with a few simple steps.
We spoke with holistic dentist Mark Burhenne, DDS, to understand what causes halitosis and how to treat it naturally.
What causes bad breath?
Chronic bad breath can come from various sources, Burhenne says, but the most common is an imbalance of the oral microbiome, or dysbiosis. This can be caused by:
- Dry mouth from mouth breathing or certain medications
- Diets high in sugar or acidic foods
- Poor oral hygiene
In each of these cases, he explains, "pathogenic bacteria and sulfur compounds are produced at an alarming rate, resulting in a bad smell within the mouth."
More severe causes may include recurrent oral thrush, an abscess in the mouth, gum disease, or oral cancer. "All of these relate back to the health of the oral microbiome," Burhenne says.
While it may seem counterintuitive, certain oral hygiene methods may actually exacerbate the problem rather than improve it. "Namely, the use of mouthwash and other antibacterial ingredients within the mouth," he says. So if your mouthwash won't help, what can?
How to treat bad breath:
Eliminate excess sugar or highly acidic foods from your diet.
The bacteria in your mouth feeds off of high-sugar or acidic foods, leaving behind a strong odor. Eliminating these from your diet—or simply cutting back and brushing your teeth after eating them—may help.
Try mouth taping at night.
"It's incredibly common to sleep with the mouth open, and this dries out the mouth and can lead to an overwhelming dysbiosis," Burhenne explains. Mouth taping will train you to breathe out of your nose at night, preventing bacterial overgrowth that would otherwise occur. Bonus: This can also prevent loud snoring.
Mouth taping is not as scary as it may sound. "The brain is wired very well to make sure you don't suffocate in your sleep," he says. In fact, that's one reason you may grind your teeth—to wake up from sleep apnea.
Just don't grab for any old tape in your craft drawer—there's a specific kind made for this purpose. According to Burhenne, mouth tape isn't strong, like duct tape, and it should be relatively easy to part the lips if necessary.
If you're nervous about trying it, he recommends Somnifix. "They're built with a vent so that the mouth isn't completely separated from airflow." Otherwise, you can use medical tape, but that may cause more skin irritation.
Stop using your toothpaste and mouthwash.
This one may sound surprising, but certain chemicals in toothpaste and the antibiotic impact of some mouthwashes may react negatively with your oral bacteria. This can lead to a cycle of dysbiosis.
You should continue brushing your teeth with water and flossing frequently, he says. "But observe what happens after several days or a couple of weeks of removing these elements."
It's similar to an elimination diet. Giving up these products for a few weeks, and slowly reintroducing them into your mouth care routine, may make you realize which products are causing problems.
Drink more water.
One simple, effective, and free way to treat bad breath is by drinking plenty of water.
"Your saliva is a vital tool in maintaining the health of your biofilm (where the bacteria of your oral microbiome lives)," he says, "and lack of hydration can lead to less effective salivation."
This can prevent dry mouth and help wash out any smelly bacteria produced when eating.
Start tongue scraping.
Tongue scraping was proved in one study to be more effective at improving bad breath2 than brushing your teeth. Burhenne recommends using a metal scraper, not just your toothbrush. The devices are simple to use, relatively inexpensive, and help remove the buildup of bacteria and sulfur that can gather on your tongue.
"The first couple of times, it's normal to see a yellow film," he says. This is a sign you're getting rid of unwanted buildup. "Bonus benefit: Many people report being able to taste their food better after tongue scraping."
While smelling your own breath under your mask may be unpleasant now, Burhenne says almost all halitosis can be corrected. It may take some help from your dentist, but the methods above and good oral hygiene should be able to help.
"If you have a foul odor as a result of an abscess, periodontal disease, or oral cancer," he says, "you'll need dental or medical intervention to correct the problem."
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.