The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on public health. Apart from the obvious effects of the coronavirus, it also has indirect but equally worrying health consequences. Travel restrictions and community lockdowns have disrupted the delivery of health services, making it difficult for people to receive medical attention, including dental health care.
Implications on the Delivery of Dental Care Services
Dental care services have been heavily regulated amid the pandemic. Since dentists and orthodontists work on people’s mouths, the risk of coronavirus transmission is higher compared to other branches of medicine, such as primary care.
Aerosol-generating procedures are also associated with increased COVID-19 infection risks. Many general dentistry services rely on such procedures and equipment, like high-speed drills and air-water syringes. The restrictions on aerosol-generating procedures resulted in many dental services closing since late March 2020.
Apart from the high-risk nature of dental health services, people’s anxiety also prevents them from receiving the medical attention they need. Although many general dentistry clinics have started reopening, patients are wary of going to their appointments for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Implications on People’s Oral Health
The lack of access to dental care services, unsurprisingly, led to a deterioration of people’s oral health. Oral diseases, when neglected, can impact every aspect of the patient’s life, not just their mouths.
There’s also the matter of people’s unhealthy dietary habits. Children and adults have been eating more fast food and junk food because of the pandemic. These food items are rich in sugar, which is associated with tooth decay. These unhealthy dietary habits, combined with the lack of access to dental care services, further worsen people’s oral health.
Another impact of COVID-19 on people’s dental health is the rise of stress-related oral conditions. Compared to before the pandemic, dentists report an increased prevalence of chipped and cracked teeth, bruxism (i.e., unconscious teeth grinding), and symptoms of temporomandibular disorders (i.e., problems with the jawbone and jaw muscles).
Teeth grinding is often related to stress or anxiety, which have been more prevalent amid the pandemic. Over time, excessive teeth grinding can cause the teeth to wear down, resulting in chipped or cracked teeth. This habit also puts too much tension in the jaw, which causes pain and numbness in the jaw muscles.
Increasing Dental Healthcare Access
COVID-19’s impact on people’s oral health shows that dental health services are essential during the pandemic. To provide patients with the dental healthcare they need, the CDC has outlined guidelines for dental services to guarantee the patients’ and the healthcare professionals’ safety during procedures.
First, dental practices must find a way to reduce their reliance on aerosol-generating procedures and equipment. In cases where they can’t find aerosol-free alternatives, dental healthcare providers must wear the proper personal protective equipment to reduce transmission risk. Masks, gowns, face protection, and caps are recommended for every single procedure.
Dental practices should also look for ways to reduce the number of patients in waiting areas. They can achieve this by strategically scheduling their appointments and placing markers in their waiting rooms. It will also help if dental clinics communicate to their patients beforehand about their new COVID-19 guidelines. They can do this by updating their social media pages, website, and promptly answering customer queries.
Finally, the CDC recommends that dental practices focus on prevention-centric approaches. Helping patients prevent oral diseases will reduce their need for surgical dental procedures, which also means fewer trips to the dentist. The most effective preventive strategy is to promote good oral hygiene and educate patients on which habits negatively affect their teeth and gum health.
Promoting Good Oral Hygiene
Good oral hygiene not only prevents cavities and other dental conditions. It also helps assure the accuracy of COVID-19 tests. The premise is that cleaning your teeth removes viral acid in the mouth, improving the accuracy of testing.
Take better care of your teeth during the pandemic by following these habits:
- Clean your teeth fully and regularly. This means brushing your teeth, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash at least twice a day.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet that’s rich in calcium, phosphorus, and other vitamins that promote teeth and gum health. Avoid sugary food and drinks, which are known to cause cavities.
- Refrain from consuming alcoholic drinks and using tobacco. These substances are linked to poor oral health and increase the risk for cancers of the mouth.
- Keep your toothbrush and interdental brush clean. Toothbrushes can easily become contaminated by the microorganisms in your mouth. Rinse them thoroughly underwater and keep them separate from the brushes of other members of the household.
Good oral health is the result of an individual and their dentist’s combined effort. People are responsible for maintaining their own dental health by observing proper hygiene. But dental practices should also do their part to operate safely amid the pandemic, making sure that their patients receive the dental care they need.