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Mask Mouth Does Not Exist, Dentists Say

Image of A bunch of children wearing face masks walk on a city street. Click to open a larger version of the image. Children wearing face masks for protection against COVD-19 walk on a city street.

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No, mask wearing won't ruin your teeth.

Recently, there has been a lot of online chatter about "mask mouth" – an alleged condition that results from wearing a mask all day and causes tooth decay or gum disease, especially among children.

But the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has "taken a position that current evidence does not support the notion of mask mouth," said Col. Thomas Stark, consultant to the Army Surgeon General for pediatric dentistry and an orofacial pain specialist at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"To date, there have not been any studies demonstrating a connection between mask use and tooth decay," Stark said.

The truth is that people's dental routine and check-up schedules have been thrown off by the COVID-19 pandemic. That's why dentists may be seeing more cavities or other dental problems.

Missing dental appointments can result in a host of infections requiring root canals, or inflammatory conditions such as gingivitis (bleeding gums). But any uptick in dental problems among children cannot be attributed to wearing masks at school, explained Army Maj. Matthew Eusterman, a pediatric dentist at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Any increase in cavities that dentists may be seeing, Eusterman said, is more likely attributed to other factors, such as:

  • The 2020 mandatory military dental clinic closures that delayed treatment for many kids
  • Families foregoing routine dental care for their kids during the recommended quarantines of the past 18 months
  • Kids spending more time at home may be snacking more often, meaning their exposure to cavity-causing foods may have increased
  • While spending more time at home, some families also may be brushing their teeth less often than the suggested American Dental Association guideline of at least twice a day after meals

"Even if there is an increase in tooth decay since the pandemic started, we do not have the data to support a causal relationship with mask use," Stark said.

Stark noted that wearing a mask all day is a long-standing practice in his field of medicine.

"If a link between masks and cavities were to exist, dental personnel would certainly have an increased risk since we wear masks all day," he said.

According to a March 2021 survey by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, there has not been a meaningful increase in oral conditions such as bad breath and dry mouth compared to pre-pandemic.

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