The pandemic has been tough in a variety of ways. Employment rates were high, businesses closed and many people lost friends and family. But for many, COVID has had both a mental and physical health impact, including potentially harming their teeth.
Skipping Routine Dental Care
If you skipped the dentist during the pandemic, you aren't alone. In fact, as cases started to rise in the summer of 2020, the World Health Organization issued a recommendation to delay routine dental care until case numbers were down. The American Dental Association, emphasizing that most dental offices followed COVID safety protocols, opposed the announcement, but some consumers still opted to only visit the dentist for emergency dental care.
But skipping those dental visits has consequences. For one, that plaque your hygienist removes can cause cavities and even gum disease if left unchecked. You'll also have missed that regular exam where your dentist spots issues early so that they don't become more serious problems later.
Stress-Induced Dental Issues
A global pandemic tends to bring on a fair amount of stress. The dental industry saw the effects of stress in increased incidents of a condition called bruxism. Bruxism is simply the medical term for teeth grinding, which has been directly linked to stress and anxiety.
You may not even realize you suffer from bruxism, especially if you're grinding your teeth while you're sleeping. But over time, teeth grinding can lead to more serious dental issues, including jaw pain, tissue damage, wear on your teeth and damage to implants, crowns or bridges.
Dietary Changes and Dental Health
Lockdowns and stress led many to change their eating habits. In fact, most adults reported undesired weight changes during the pandemic. Unfortunately, weight gain can take a toll on your health in addition to the impact of poor nutrition on your body.
But poor COVID eating patterns can also disrupt your oral health. You could find that you now have more cavities, for instance, or that all those carbohydrates and acidic foods degraded your tooth enamel. In addition to visiting a dentist, the best thing you can do is to try to resume the eating habits you had before the pandemic.
COVID-Created Dental Issues
If you're one of the many who caught COVID and made it through, you may be wondering if there will be long-lasting impacts on your health. Obviously, the data on that is still very preliminary, but COVID oral health studies have connected dental issues to some COVID-19 cases. The issue may be connected to the loss of taste and smell some survivors experienced.
There's also a suspected link between COVID-19 treatments and oral health. In particular, a COVID treatment called chloroquine has been linked to dry mouth and allergic reactions for those with amalgam fillings. The popular COVID drug remdesivir is still under investigation for its oral health side effects. If you had COVID treatment, make sure you let your dental practitioner know on your next visit in case you need more advanced dental care.
Getting Back on Track
Whatever your pandemic dental behaviors, the best thing you can do is put yourself back on a routine that prioritizes your oral health. Here are some tips to help you prevent or reduce any long-term negative effects on your teeth and gums.
- Schedule a dental cleaning: If you haven't been in a while, make an appointment to get routine care as soon as possible, including X-rays to determine if any damage has been done.
- Brush and floss daily: You've probably heard this since you were a child, but cleaning your teeth every day by brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent gum disease and cavities.
- Limit teeth-damaging foods: Obviously, reducing your sugar intake can help, but also try to steer clear of fizzy drinks and processed foods. Try to brush immediately after each meal, if possible, and limit snacking to keep foods from lingering on your teeth.
Whether you skipped dental visits during the pandemic or not, it's important to note that the stress might have affected your teeth in other ways. By staying on track with regular dental visits and practicing good dental hygiene at home, you can reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease and reduce the risk of needing more complete dental care.
- Self.com: Do I Really Need To See the Dentist Twice a Year?
- ADA.org: American Dental Association Responds to World Health Organization Recommendation: Dentistry Is Essential Health Care
- NCBI: Temporomandibular Disorders and Bruxism Outbreak as a Possible Factor of Orofacial Pain Worsening During the COVID-19 Pandemic—Concomitant Research in Two Countries
- APA.org: Stress in America™
- Thieme: COVID-19 Pandemic: Oral Health Challenges and Recommendations