Ever since masks became mandatory in the majority of public spaces because of COVID-19, the area around my jaw and chin have been flaring up like crazy. At first I thought it was due to all of the pandemic-induced stress and the ridiculous amount of snacking I was doing staying at home (neither of those help the situation). The reality is that "maskne" is now a part of our everyday jargon.
Even if you wash your reusable masks (I recommend linen ones as they're far more breathable) and rotate them daily, you may notice you still break out. Since I work from home and rarely leave my hermit cave, it was only taking me wearing my mask out once a week to notice my chin and jawline were breaking out.
A big contributor to maskne is actually the state of our oral microbiome. Just like our gut microbiome, our mouths are homes to a diversity of bacteria and pathogens - We especially have a lot of bacteria living in our gum lining and also our tongue (including candida!). When we wear masks and breathe out, that bacteria is expelled through vapour and not only does it recirculate and penetrate through our pores, but we breathe is back in as well. Even if you aren't breaking out because of your mask, not only are we breathing this bacteria in again but we swallow over 1 litre of our own saliva a day. The bacteria in our mouth populates the bacteria in our gut, so we cannot repair the gut without focussing on oral hygiene too. At the same time, navigating a gut protocol can help significantly with oral health.
So besides brushing your teeth with a quality fluoride free toothpaste, what else can you do to keep your oral microbiome healthy?
Here are 5 tips:
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic ritual that I like to see as nature's mouthwash. It is traditionally done using an oil based on your Ayurvedic dosha, however from my practice I have found that organic, cold pressed coconut oil works well for most people. Coconut oil has specific compounds in it such as lauric and caprylic acid that are renowned for their antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. Also your jaw muscles get a good workout doing this which is great for lymphatic contractions! You can also add 1-2 drops of food grade essential oil (Doterra has some great ones) for taste or other benefits.
This is best done first thing in the morning, upon rising and before brushing your teeth or consuming any solids or fluids. Take a tablespoon of your preferred oil and swish it around vigorously for 20 minutes - I like to use this time to put on a random short Ted Talk podcast and do some calf raises and squats. Do not swallow this liquid! Spit it out into the garbage to avoid clogging the drain and brush your teeth immediately afterwards to ensure all toxins are eliminated.
This is another Ayurvedic practice. In many traditions, the tongue is considered a roadmap to the body. Have you noticed a coating on your tongue? Again, based on your dosha, the colour may vary from white, brown or yellow. This coating that forms throughout the day and overnight is packed with toxins. Tongue scraping helps to prevent the toxins from reabsorbing into the bloodstream, kills bad breath and the practice can actually enhance your taste, as your tastebuds are cleaned as well in the process. I like to do this after brushing my teeth.
There are many options out there, but I recommend using a copper tongue scraper as it is has natural antiviral, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. They are fairly inexpensive - I purchased mine from Amazon for $9. At the very least, please do not use a plastic one as plastic is porous and very difficult to keep clean.
"I don't understand - I floss every day!" is probably the biggest exaggeration that dentists hear. You should be flossing at least twice a day in a gentle manner so as not to cause your gums to bleed. If you're eating out and you have to wear a mask afterwards, make sure you have some floss on you to use before putting your mask back on. For the sake of your own health and our planet's, please avoid using conventional dental floss. I really like the Radius dental floss that you can purchase from Whole Foods. It has a water coating as well as tea tree, coconut, cardamom and clove oils for additional benefits.
As always, the best way to combat any kind of dysbiosis is to prevent it - we are learning more about the gut-mouth axis and understanding that an inflammatory response in the gut will affect oral health in turn. An anti-inflammatory diet with minimal to no sugar, gluten, dairy, or putrified oils (canola, vegetable, corn for example) is the best way to achieve this, however it is also important to understand your individual food allergies and sensitivities, and work to repair the gut itself. You can identify food sensitivities by using a food tracking journal, however for best results I do suggest working with a holistic nutritionist.
BONUS TIP: RAW HONEY
Okay, this doesn't have anything to do with oral health, but I love raw honey as an antibacterial topical treatment. If I have to wear my mask, when I get home I gently warm up a small amount of honey on the stovetop. Put a drop on the back of your hand first to make sure it's not too hot before massaging it onto your face. Let it sit for 15-25 minutes before washing it off. I prefer to hop in the shower to get it off as it is quite sticky. This treatment is super soothing and makes you feel like royalty.
As we continue to adapt to "the new normal", I hope that these tips are beneficial and accessible to you!