Dentists see surge of oral health problems, and the pandemic is likely to blame

Coronavirus shutdowns have interrupted routines, making it easy to put off ‘simple little things like oral hygiene,’ one dentist says. There’s all of that stress teeth grinding, too.

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Though lifestyle changes are tough to measure, there’s data showing people are putting off visits to the dentist due to the pandemic.

Though lifestyle changes are tough to measure, there’s data showing people are putting off visits to the dentist due to the pandemic.

Stress and isolation brought on by the pandemic are certainly bad for our mental health, and dentists say they’re seeing evidence our oral health is suffering, too.

Dentists say reports of a huge spike in cracked teeth are just the start of the problem.

“It’s like a perfect storm,” says Dr. Michael Dickerson, an independent practice owner with Aspen Dental in Tarpon Springs, Florida, who says the patients he sees need “a ton of work.”

In the New York metropolitan area, patients’ mouths are “much dirtier than they were before … their gums are more inflamed,” says Dr. Michael Fleischer, a dentist and senior vice president of clinical affairs for Dental365.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, endodontist Dr. Derek T. Peek says he treated twice as many broken teeth this August compared with last year, even though he saw fewer patients. Endodontists specialize in complex or painful teeth issues.

One factor in the upswing: The first patients to go back to the dentist after widespread stay-at-home orders were likely the most in need.

Also, before shutdowns, lockdowns and quarantines, “Your day had a rhythm to it,” American Dental Association spokesman Dr. Matthew Messina says. When that rhythm is interrupted, it’s easy to forget “simple little things like oral hygiene.” 

Other factors leading to dental problems: Teeth grinding due to stress is probably up. Brushing and flossing are probably down as good habits slip and social outings decline. Routine cleanings have been put off.

And, even for people with tooth pain, there’s data showing more of us were putting off visits to the dentist.

One in five adults has visited a dental office amid the pandemic, even though two in five adults said they’ve had dental issues since March, according to a survey released in August by Guardian Life that found one in four U.S. adults won’t be comfortable going to the dentist by the end of the year. 

The nature of dental problems makes that a particularly problematic trend.

“With dentistry, things only get worse,” Fleischer says.

As time goes on, dental fixes usually become more expensive, damage more permanent.

Dentists say their practices are safe to visit even during the pandemic. Though they can’t eliminate all risk, dentists take steps to minimize the chances of spreading the coronavirus.

For Peek, whose daily routine as an endodontist involves seeing patients in pain, the pandemic has reinforced his role as a “teeth saver” for people of all ages.

His advice: “You really need to go get your teeth cleaned.”

Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, AP


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