LUBBOCK, Texas — A Houston dentist has said that an increase in cavities in her patients could be linked to dry mouth caused by wearing face masks.

According to board-certified dentist Dr. Piya Gandhi, breathing through your mouth reduces saliva, which helps protect your teeth from cavities and decay. Mouth breathing already increases your risk of cavities, and breathing heavily through your mouth from under the mask could increase that risk even more. The face mask itself doesn’t lead to cavities — it’s the way that people breathe while wearing them.

“Now that a lot of us are mouth breathing while we have our masks on, we’re drying out all that saliva that usually protects us from getting cavities, and that’s increasing our risk of cavities,” Dr. Gandhi said.

While dentists in Lubbock told KAMC News that they haven’t see this issue here yet, they agree with Gandhi that this is a very plausible side effect.

“There’s no question that dry mouth can cause cavities,” said Dr. Blake Johnston, co-owner of Hancock and Johnston Dentistry.

However, Gandhi emphasized that the possible connection between face masks and cavities does not give people a reason to stop wearing masks during the pandemic.

“We don’t want to stop wearing masks, but we want to conscious of what we can do to stop the dryness in our mouth,” Gandhi said.

She urges people to continue to wear their masks as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the country, but she also encourages people to keep their regular appointments with their dentists to keep track of their dental health.

“Now that [the coronavirus] is going to be around for a while, I think it’s important to get on top of our preventative visits,” Gandhi said.

If left untreated, something as simple as a cavity could lead to more severe medical issues and even affect your heart and inflame your blood.

“Any time that you have a toothache — that could lead to an infection or an issue in the mouth and the rest of the body,” Johnston said.

For those that are worried about going back to the dentist as the pandemic continues, both Dr. Johnston and Dr. Gandhi pointed out that their offices have implemented new safety measures, including having additional PPE for employees, keeping the waiting rooms empty and adding air purifiers, among other things.

“In my opinion, being in a dentist’s office right now is one of the safest places you can be,” Gandhi said.

To combat cavities when your wear your mask, they suggest staying hydrated, taking mask breaks when safe and chewing on gum and mints, as long as they’re sugar free.