Sure, we’ve attended Zoom meetings with a dress shirt on top and PJs on the bottom. Or, let the kids wear the same shorts one day longer than we normally would. Maybe even skipped showers here and there. But dental care and hygiene is one of those things that should not be neglected or compromised. The consequences of letting good habits decay can be negative and long term for both adults and kids. We checked in with a Colorado dentist and an orthodontist to make sure we’re doing the right things for our family’s oral care during the pandemic.
Brush and floss daily—no matter what
Devote two minutes to brushing and flossing, plus 30 seconds of a fluoride rinse in the morning and at night, advises Dr. Preet Clair of Clair Family Dentistry. She says this morning routine is especially important if you eat before brushing and flossing because breakfast “feeds the bacteria in the mouth that occur in a dry mouth at night.”
Keep up with regular appointments
Dental and orthodontic professionals understand that patients may feel hesitant to go to their offices for appointments during the pandemic. Some people have scheduled appointments but others say they aren’t ready to return.
Clair says the problem with not maintaining regular dental visits is that issues may be developing even if you aren’t feeling pain. For adults especially, she says, extra tartar buildup can lead to things that leave the body open to infection, including bleeding gums, gingivitis, cavities, and, potentially root canals and even removal of the tooth.
“Small areas of decay can get bigger and start to cause sensitivity and pain, especially in children, since the enamel of baby teeth isn’t as strong as permanent adult teeth,” says Jazmin Rivera, a dental hygienist at Clair Family dentistry. “Lack of cavity control for kids can lead to swollen lymph nodes which can lead to septicemia (a blood stream infection) and hospitalization.”
Dr. Hillary Baskin of Colorado Orthodontics agrees. “Often things going on in your body are first shown through your mouth,” she says. “So, there are things we can identify and make sure that the whole person, not just your oral health, is under control.”
In orthodontics, not maintaining a treatment schedule can have different consequences than in dentistry. “Braces are like mini-machines in your mouth and they need regular care and attention to make sure treatment is progressing in a positive and forward direction,” says Baskin. If something broke in a child’s mouth during quarantine, Baskin says it’s important that it gets repaired, otherwise there could be negative side effects and prolonged treatment.
Watch for signs of stress
Clair and Baskin have noticed an increase in issues that could be related to the pandemic. “In the past few months, we’ve seen many cracked teeth due to grinding and clenching which occurs during stress,” says Clair. Baskin has noticed more patients complaining of jaw joint pain which, she agrees, can be related to clenching and stress during this time of COVID.
Both have also had to remind returning patients to practice good oral hygiene and cut back on junk food. “We discuss strict oral hygiene practices and proper eating habits, especially limiting of sugar intake, with all our patients regardless of a pandemic. But we stress it even more now,” says Clair.
Follow updated office procedures
According to both Clair and Baskin, most dental and orthodontic offices are routinely considered very safe because of the strict hygiene protocols that are standard when working in the mouth. However, they added that they’ve increased precautions due to COVID-19 to include how appointments, waiting, and treatment rooms are handled.
Call your dental or orthodontic office before your appointment, or check their websites, to see what they are doing and what you should be prepared for when you arrive. At Clair Family Dentistry, for instance, patients are asked to call the front office when they get there and wait in their car or outside in the fresh air until they are called in. Once inside, they are asked to use hand sanitizer or wash their hands for 20 seconds. Patient temperatures are taken and they are asked a series of questions about potential exposure. Masks are required until staff needs to access patients’ mouths. “For medically compromised individuals, we will try to schedule those patients first thing in the morning or end of day,” says Clair.
At Colorado Orthodontics, among other measures, they are decreasing the number of patients seen and the number of people in the reception area; and are socially distancing patients and staff in the treatment rooms. Families are also asked about potential COVID-19 exposure, and patients rinse with a diluted iodine/water mixture recommended by the University of Connecticut before being treated.
Keeping up with appointments for oral health maintenance and treatment can be handled safely with proper precautions in place. And a shower before you go wouldn’t hurt.