The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Americans’ personal health — and not just due to the virus’ respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms. A large part of the reason why COVID has impacted personal wellness is due to the fact that patients have delayed their visits to medical professionals due to fear of contracting the virus. According to a 2020 report published by the CDC, “an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%).” Such delays have disproportionally affected dentists with the WHO stating that “75 percent of survey respondents reported dental services have been completely or partially disrupted because of the coronavirus.”
This post will detail how to maintain oral health during the pandemic, including home dental care practices you should adopt and unhelpful habits you should avoid.
How Has COVID-19 has Impacted Our Dental Care Habits?
We’ve already hinted that one of the ways in which dental hygiene during COVID has suffered owes to patients’ skittishness regarding potential infection. In addition to adults failing to care for themselves, parents have often struggled to get appointments for their children. A C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine found that a third of respondents struggled to book an appointment or simply couldn’t manage to get one. Changes in personal habits also haven’t helped. A survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council discovered that a third of adults report that they’re snacking more. Delayed tooth care combined with increased eating can only cause problems — right?
Well, not necessarily. The Mott poll found that about a quarter of parents believed that their kids were doing a better job of flossing and brushing. The pandemic needn’t necessarily lead to worse oral-health outcomes. However, keeping your teeth and gums healthy will require some special consideration, especially if you’re struggling with how to see a dentist during COVID.
Importance of Good Oral Health During the Pandemic
Everyone understands that toothaches, cavities, and bleeding gums can disrupt your everyday life. But maintaining good oral hygiene during pandemic pressures matters for more reasons than simply avoiding discomfort. Poor oral hygiene has implications for your overall health and is associated with:
- Pregnancy Complications (dental disease has been linked to preeclampsia and premature birth)
- Bacterial Infections in the bloodstream (such infections can damage heart valves)
- Coronary Heart Disease (losing teeth is sometimes connected to this ailment)
- Dementia (a 2019 study discovered that a bacteria responsible for gingivitis was found in the brains of individuals who died with Alzheimer’s disease)
- Diabetes (periodontitis can contribute to unregulated blood-sugar levels)
- Childcare (parents and/or caregivers can inadvertently transmit cavity-causing bacteria to children)
- Education (an American Journal of Public Health study found that children experiencing tooth pain were four times more likely to have a low GPA)
Tips for Taking Care of Your Teeth at Home
So if oral health is vitally important and many are still struggling to get regular cleanings, what are some actionable dental tips during COVID that one can apply at home? Well, there are quite a few! What’s more, many of them begin before you ever pick up a toothbrush. For instance, your oral health will improve if you:
Choose Healthier Snacks. When sugar meets teeth, cavities rejoice, so one of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy involves snacking on healthier things. Fortunately, you have an abundance of healthy options from which to choose! Some good options are:
- Nuts such as peanuts, cashews, and pistachios
- Raisins and other dried fruits
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Cheese and yogurt
- Dark chocolate
Practice Better Eating Habits. Even if you have perfect brushing and flossing habits, it’s nearly impossible to get up with damaging bacteria if you’re constantly noshing throughout the day. Limiting yourself to three meals and two snacks helps keep your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. Also, including protein with each meal or snack will keep you full and help you stick to your eating schedule.
Make Water Your Beverage of Choice. Plenty of drinks have tooth-harming ingredients, and regularly sipping on soda/pop, milk, coffee, tea, or juice might encourage decay.
Keep Your Noshing Sessions Short. Continuing to eat for long periods of time is no better than eating tons of tiny meals. Less lengthy periods of eating help promote a healthy mouth.
Best Dental Care Habits from Home
In addition to watching what and how you eat, you may wonder how to look after your teeth during the pandemic. Below you’ll find some healthy habits in which to engage.
Brush and Floss Your Teeth Regularly. This one almost goes without saying, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Brush with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste two to three times a day. Don’t neglect your flossing either!
Wash Your Hands Before You Brush and Floss. Failing to adequately attend to other forms of hygiene while managing your oral health can lead to negative health outcomes. Just consider that not washing your hands well might contribute to you contracting pinworms, toxoplasmosis, hand-foot-mouth disease, Giardia, E. Coli — and perhaps even COVID-19.
Disinfect Your Toothbrush, Keep Your Bathroom Clean, and Don´t Share Your Toothbrush. A study published in BMC Oral Health found that employing these habits, as well as brushing your tongue, helped to avoid the transmission of COVID-19.
Use an Antibacterial Mouthwash Daily. An antibacterial mouthwash has certain quantifiable benefits, such as fighting bad breath, dry mouth, and certain infections such as thrush. But did you know that a study from the Penn State College of Medicine showed that such a mouthwash may reduce viral load and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Note, though, that the study’s authors didn’t suggest that mouthwash can replace social distancing or mask wearing.
Common Dental Care Practices to Avoid at all Costs
Finally, there are some activities that you simply shouldn’t engage in — ever. For instance, one of the worst things you can do for your oral health is to use tobacco in any form. Most people are aware that, for instance, smoking leads to bad breath, discolored teeth, and increased plaque build up. But consider that tobacco use (which also includes cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, and the like) can cause:
- Bone loss in the jaw
- Salivary gland inflammation
- Development of leukoplakia
- Development of gum disease
- Tooth loss
- Oral cancer
- Reduced healing after routine oral procedures
- Increased failure of dental implants and bone grafts
Whether you’ve used tobacco for ages or fired up an old habit due to the stress associated with the pandemic, the data is clear: Your oral health will suffer unless you stop.
The same holds true for stress, and it might surprise you to learn that it can also hurt your teeth and gums. How? Unaddressed stress often leads to:
- Brushing too hard
- Indulging in harmful habits such as chewing on hard objects or stress eating
- Bruxism (i.e., grinding your teeth in your sleep)
- Simply forgetting to brush your teeth
If you’re concerned about your oral health, know that Westend Dental is here for you. Our practice is open, and we are actively implementing guidance provided by the American Dental Association, CDC, and IDPH. The health and safety of our patients is our top priority. Contact us today!
Prior to joining the team, Carmen gained over 13 years of experience in the healthcare field. Now as the Marketing Coordinator for Westend Dental, Carmen recognizes how the skills she had picked up along the way can affect patients and help connect them to people who care. Carmen is also passionate about expressing her creative side through the promotion opportunities that the position allows! Carmen fully embraces the Westend Dental vision of providing patients with a “feel good” experience. In her free time, Carmen enjoys spending time with her husband and children, cooking, and entertaining friends.