The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend the wearing of masks while in public to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But you may be experiencing some negative side effects from wearing a face mask for an extended period of time.
Some experts suggest that the increased use of masks due to the coronavirus has left some patients with gum disease and bad breath. One dentist and co-founder of One Manhattan Dental, Dr. Rob Ramondi, said around 50 per cent of his patients are being impacted by the use of face masks. He also stated that wearing masks for extended periods of time can cause dry mouth, which leads to a decrease in saliva – and saliva is what fights bacteria and cleanses your teeth.
Decisionsindentistry.com writes in The Truth Behind Mask Mouth:
“Wearing a mask is not new for dental and medical professionals; however, the extended wear time is. And with supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) low in some regions, many healthcare providers are keeping the same mask on instead of donning a new one after each patient, further extending the wear time of masks.2
In one study, nurses were tested and surveyed while wearing their masks over the course of two 12-hour shifts.3 Over the two days, 22% of the nurses removed their masks at some point due to discomfort and a perceived shortness of air with complaints of headaches and lightheadedness as well.
More recently, a study was conducted specifically related to headaches and their association with PPE such as N95 masks and protective eyewear.4 This study found that out of 128 participants with no preexisting headache condition, 81% reported PPE-associated headaches. Additionally, out of the 46 participants with a pre-existing headache diagnosis, 91.3% reported an exacerbation of their headache condition after the extended use of PPE.
Headaches can be a symptom of dehydration.5 Extended mask wearing may inhibit the consumption of enough fluids throughout the day. This could, in turn, lead to xerostomia, which opens the door for potential oral complications.
Xerostomia has been associated with an increased risk of caries, fungal infections, oral malodor, and periodontal diseases,6 which may be why we have started hearing the phrase “mask mouth.” Since masks are now required in many public settings, we need to discuss these potential complications with our patients, as they too are wearing masks for extended periods. Combatting xerostomia as a side effect of mask usage can be as simple as reminding our patients to drink enough water throughout the day. Additionally, chewing gum with xylitol can help stimulate salivary flow and prevent caries.7″
In addition to headaches and dehydration, some say that wearing the PPE for an extensive amount of time can lead to difficulty breathing, profuse sweating and skin irritation.
CDA.org writes in Side effects of PPE: Tips to relieve physical and emotional exhaustion:
“Some dental professionals are facing a new set of challenges from wearing additional personal protective equipment as they adapt to providing care in the COVID-19 era.
A recent survey of more than 2,500 dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and business administrators on the impact of current PPE protocols found that dental professionals of all ages are experiencing increased levels of physical and emotional discomfort since resuming routine care.
Dental professionals who are now wearing multiple layers at one time, including a surgical mask, face shield and respirator mask, have also reported challenges with breathing. According to the survey, participants said they are having a hard time breathing nearly 50% of the time while wearing the current recommended respiratory PPE.
Dental professionals are also wearing their PPE for an extensive amount of time, which can lead to profuse sweating — another side effect that was reported among more than half of survey participants. According to an article in Dentistry IQ, 62% of health care workers report only removing their PPE during their lunch break, while another 7% say they never remove their PPE during their entire work shifts.
If you’re experiencing more breakouts and irritation on your face lately, you’re not alone. In the survey, 43% of respondents reported an increase in facial acne while another 35% reported facial skin soreness due to face masks. The constant rubbing of the masks against the skin causes micro-tears, allowing easier entry for bacteria and dirt to clog the pores.
Health care workers are most at risk because their masks are tighter-fitting and workers are wearing them longer. According to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in May, at least 83% of health care workers in Hubei, China, suffered skin problems on their face due to enhanced infection-control measures.”
To combat some of the side effects of prolonged mask usage, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you remain hydrated throughout the day, it is less likely you will experience dry mouth, bad breath and headaches.
If you’re experiencing skin irritation, experts recommend simplifying your skin care routine and using a gentle non-soap cleanser and a mild, fragrance-free moisturizer. It is also advised to avoid thick skin care creams and opt for a more lightweight water-based product to wear underneath your mask.