It has been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began and it has unquestionably had a disturbing impact on dental health, both for people who were actually infected with the disease and those who were not. Below we explore COVID-19 and Dental Health.
Impact on oral health due to COVID-19:
Dentists have reported seeing an impact from the pandemic on their patients’ oral health. The pandemic has impacted the mouth directly from the COVID-19 virus and indirectly from lack of preventative dental care, from increased stress, and from changes in dietary habits. Gum disease, which has been linked to COVID-19 complications, clearly is on the increase.
Working at home has increased snacking and tooth decay has resulted. Drinking sugary beverages has been a contributing factor.
Dental home-care has suffered as well. It has been postulated that less-frequent home care can result from isolation-induced depression.
These behaviors increase the risk for gingivitis, periodontal disease, increased tooth sensitivity, and tooth decay.
COVID-19 Direct Impact on the Oral Cavity:
Researchers at a university in Milan, Italy studied 122 patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and then discharged. They detected temporomandibular joint (TMJ) abnormalities, facial pain and jaw muscle weakness and hyper inflammation in the salivary glands in many of these patients. “This cohort study of COVID-19 survivors revealed that residual damage of the oral cavity persists in the vast majority of the more severely affected patients far beyond clinical recovery,” said Nicholas Jakubovics, editor in chief of the Journal of Dental Research, which published the study. He continued, “This suggests that the oral cavity represents a preferential target for SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
“The presence of a low-grade chronic infection, such as periodontal disease, can create a bacterial burden and can disrupt a patient’s immune system. This disruption leads to other health issues and can possibly increase a patient’s susceptibility to viral illness. Thus, one of the best defenses we have against viral infections like COVID-19 is a strong immune system to help fight infection,” reports Marisa Dolce, Todays Dental News.
People Not Seeking Dental Treatment:
When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, dental offices were forced to close. But when they reopened two months later, many people did not schedule routine dental treatment because they were afraid of becoming infected with COVID. This delay in treatment has damaged oral health.
Avoidance of preventative care has resulted in increased tooth decay, dry mouth from wearing a mask all day and an increase in gingivitis and even periodontal disease. Some patients who previously had good checkups and healthy teeth may be in for a rude awakening. They may find that the health of their teeth has suffered.
Oral Health Problems and Stress:
Dentists have seen a significant rise in the number of patients presenting with stress-related oral problems since the global COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. In a poll, dentists reported an increase in the prevalence of:
- Teeth grinding and clenching
- Chipped teeth
- Cracked teeth
- TMJ symptoms
Increase in Gum Disease:
Gum disease has been linked to COVID-19 Complications. COVID-19 complications are 3 times more likely in patients who have gum disease, according to research. One study found this group was 3.5 times more likely to require intensive care and 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator. Death is nine times more likely for people with gum disease. Half of Americans aged 30 or older have periodontitis which causes inflammation of the gums, when not treated. This inflammation can spread throughout the body. The inflammatory response associated with COVID-19 can be fatal. Gum disease has been associated with lung disease including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and asthma.
Ongoing dental care is important for everyone, especially those with gum disease. Good oral care can help to reduce the side effects associated with COVID-19. Make healthy choices and reduce sugary or acidic beverages and starchy carb snacks. Drink more water and don’t wait until you are thirsty. Use over-the-counter products to reduce dry mouth. Beneficial products that contain Xylitol such as Spry mints, gum and spray, or Xylimelts can stimulate saliva production. Fluoridated toothpaste can help strengthen enamel.
Finally, see your dentist. Dental offices have increased their infection control strategies and are safe places to receive preventive dental care. It is crucial that periodontitis must be treated thoroughly and immediately. Treatment is more important than ever. Take these steps to protect your beautiful smile and preserve your oral health.
Pi Dental Center continues to utilize the highest level of infection control and safety protocols available with stringent sterilization and has complied with all regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state of Pennsylvania. Pi Dental Center provides a safe environment for patients and staff. At the same time, we provide a welcoming environment for patients.
Call (215) 646-6334 to schedule your routine checkup and oral hygiene.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
COVID-19 (coronavirus) stigma – What it is and how to reduce it: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-stigma/art-20484278