As the world focuses on the Coronavirus and does everything possible to prevent getting infected by a deadly virus, many people ignore the infection present in their mouth. Of course, the risk of death from dental infections is extremely rare, but there are many negative consequences that can be prevented. Using the same diligence to care for your mouth as you are using to prevent coronavirus by brushing, flossing, using mouthwash could prevent cavities, gum disease, and infections. These dental problems are correlated to an increase in many systemic diseases and people with poor dental health are more likely to get sick, thus we may be able to infer they may be more susceptible to coronavirus.
The lockdown is potentially a perfect storm for dental problems. Many people are stuck at home and many reports have stated people are snacking more, are out of routines, and are under stress. All of which increase the risk for cavities and gum disease. So, if you are one who is at home, make a point to focus on oral care. Brush at least twice a day or more if you do find yourself eating more often. Be sure to floss daily, but if you are not a flosser then at least use a mouthwash like Listerine for 30 seconds. Think of floss like washing hand and mouthwash like hand sanitizer. Flossing is the best, but mouthwash is good second option. Even better yet is doing both!
As important as homecare is, snacking habits are as important if not more so for dental health. As stated, we all are infected by bacteria in our mouths. Those bacteria feed off sugars from food and drink damaging our teeth and gums. Many snacks are sugary and can lead to active bacteria throughout the day. Typically, bacteria are most destructive for the 30 minutes after they are exposed to sugars, therefore the risks to your teeth are multiplied if you are snacking and sipping on sugary items throughout the day.
Stress and routines which affect sleep patterns also have negative affects on oral health. It has been shown that our immune systems are compromised in times of stress and altered sleep patterns. This in turn increases the risk of a degradation in dental health.
Another part of the perfect storm is the fact that dental offices are closed to all but the most severe emergencies in order to preserve protective gear for hospitals and prevent spread of the virus.
With dental offices being closed, the consequences may be seen for months, if not years. In dentistry, the earlier a problem is diagnosed and treated, the least destructive, painful, and expensive it is. As I write this in mid-April, dental offices are planned to be closed for a minimum of 6-7 weeks but likely will be longer. That means many preventive appointments are missed and may not be made up until the next 6-month exam or later, leading to missed or worse problems. Therefore, it is recommended to double down on homecare in case dental offices are closed for much longer and you are unable to have preventive appointments for some time.
Dentists can see the most severe emergencies in the hope to keep patients from ending up in the ER. There has been some confusion on what constitutes a dental emergency. The American Dental Association has published guidelines as to what patients we are able to see during the pandemic. As I write this in mid-April, the guidelines severely limit us to mostly trauma, swelling, bleeding, severe pain and a few other limited dental problems. If you have one of those, then there is a secondary screening that you must not have any possible symptoms that could be Coronavirus. If you feel you have an issue, just call your dentist. By rule, dentists must be available for emergencies by screening to see patients or refer them if needed.
We all hope and pray the coronavirus situation will end soon, but do not let a bad situation get worse by letting your oral hygiene go. Be diligent and hopefully you will not need to figure out what constitutes a dental emergency.
Written by Dr. Joiner for the Capital Democrat April 30 edition