How to treat 'mask breath' - the slightly gross side effect of protecting against COVID-19

people backing away from man
If you're noticing people back away - it might not just be down to social distancing. Photo credit: Getty.

With our new normal of wearing face masks out and about to work, the supermarket and on public transport comes a host of new things to think about. 

Of course, keeping us and those around us safe from COVID-19 means it's all worth it - but I still can't say I love dealing with the occasional case of 'maskne' and more prevalently, being so aware of my own breath. 

If you're anything like me, newly noticing bouts of bad breath might have taken you completely by surprise and caused more than a little embarrassment. 

Don't worry - you're not alone. 

"When a mask covers both the nose and mouth, the concentration of any bad breath is increased, allowing us to smell it," dentist Dr Edwin Chng, the director of medical group Parkway Shenton told CNA. "Without the mask, even if one has bad breath, he or she may not notice it."

But luckily, you don't have to just stay 3m away from everyone you love and hope it goes away. Instead, there are a few ways to tackle the issue:

Stay hydrated

Wearing a mask often leads to people breathing faster, and through their mouth instead of their nose. This can quickly dry out the mouth, and lead to less saliva to wash away food particles and moisten the tissues.

"A drier mouth, especially if you are not drinking sufficient water, may contribute to bad breath," says dentist Dr Koh Chu Guan. This dryness can be worsened by smoking or consuming diuretic drinks like coffee. 

Experts say that keeping fluid intake high will encourage the mouth to produce more saliva, leading to a fresher mouth and breath. Making an effort to breathe through the nose and exhale out the mouth will also help. 

Be more intense about mouth hygiene 

This is the time that it might actually pay to floss like you always tell your dentist you do. Dr Koh says just brushing your teeth might not be enough to minimise odours and keep your mouth minty fresh - he also recommends flossing or using interdental brushes, and brushing or scraping your tongue.

"The tongue is a great source of halitosis. Most of the bacteria reside on the tongue, especially further back," he says. 

If you're noticing a really bad smell it might be time to see a dentist and have your teeth and gums checked for periodontal disease and decay - even though you're only noticing your breath now, it may have been bad for a while. 

Treat your mask

If you've done everything you can to make your mouth as minty fresh as possible and you're still bothered by having the natural odour of your mouth so up close and personal, one co-worker of mine in the Newshub newsroom has given me a hack he swears by. By popping a little Listerine or breath-freshening spray inside his mask, he breathes in the minty fresh aroma, which masks (no pun intended) the smell of his own breath.

Warning: One spritz is more than enough. Don't knock yourself out with any more - it might make your eyes water a bit.