How the COVID Pandemic and Quarantine May Be Affecting Your Oral Health
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of personal hygiene as well as mental health. One area that’s often overlooked but still has implications for many of our patients is how quarantine and the 2020/2021 climate related to the pandemic has affected people’s oral health.
We have found in our practice that the added stress of the pandemic can have disastrous results on people’s teeth and periodontal health. Particularly patients at an increased risk of COVID-exposure or related complications who are unable to leave their home or have been hesitant about returning to the dentist often can have flare-ups of periodontal disease or gingival inflammation. Some of this delay is unavoidable for patients who are under a strict quarantine but can still carry serious consequences.
The increased stress of the pandemic for some patients has shown a related uptick in “bruxism” or teeth grinding, at night as well as during the day. And dental neglect, sugar consumption, as well as these other factors may lead people to have more dental problems than they ordinarily would experience.
Is "mask-mouth" a thing?
There are a number of articles circulating, mostly from online sources, citing “mask-mouth” as a recent phenomena related to increased use of face coverings to prevent COVID-exposure. From the literature, which appears to be primarily anecdotal, “mask-mouth” is a situation where bad breath (halitosis) and increased bacteria formation can result from extensive mask use during the day.
As health care professionals, the last thing we want to do is discourage anyone from wearing something that could potentially spread a serious and deadly virus. Furthermore, many medical professionals wear masks for much of their day prior to the pandemic (and now wear masks with an even higher level of air restriction) and “mask mouth” should not be a central concern for our patients nor be an excuse to avoid mask wear, particularly in an area where there’s a high risk of exposure.
That said, decreased air flow and hydration from mask wear could potentially increase a patient’s chances of developing bad breath and there are a number of ways to combat this.
- Wear a mask that’s clean and made of breathable material
- Utilize a bacteria fighting mouthwash that’s free of alcohol twice a day, ideally with prolonged (clinical favorites include SmarthBreath or TheraFresh) in addition to brushing and flossing
- Make sure you stay hydrated, particularly with water or unsweetened beverages
- Maintain regular and high-quality dental cleanings and good home oral care. This cannot be overstated!
How to Avoid Dental Issues During COVID Quarantine
As stated previously, our practice has seen three primary issues that have increased dental health issues during the pandemic. These take the form of (1) dental health neglect (sometimes unavoidable due to lockdown (2) dietary changes, including increased sugar and carbohydrate consumption during quarantine and (3) increased bruxism, or tooth grinding.
So what can be done to prevent these issues from wreaking havoc on your oral health?
There’s no denying that COVID presents risks far more serious that periodontal disease or a broken tooth, so at the crux of this advice is that if you are at an increased risk of COVID-exposure, or have been exposed to COVID, following the advice of your healthcare professional and local ordinances and observing recommended quarantine and protective measures must come first!
That being said, if you are healthy and your dentist is observing the recommended precautions for treating patients during the COVID pandemic, these suggestions may help you avoid a dental calamity.
- Be conscious of your sugar and carbohydrate consumption. Brushing with an ADA-approved toothpaste 2x a day for a full two minutes with daily flossing is always important, and if you have a power toothbrush, even better!
- If you’re experiencing dental pain, swelling, or a potential dental emergency contact your dentist ASAP for diagnosis and care.
- If you are overdue for dental care, particularly to address cavities or uncontrolled periodontal disease, complete your care and follow the post op recommendations of your treating dentist.
- If you notice increased jaw pain or broken teeth, contact your dentist to see if a nightguard or related appliance would be appropriate.
With the appropriate home care and regular dental visits, many patients can avoid dental problems from becoming serious or causing unforeseen emergencies.