Understanding the Pandemic’s Impact On Oral Health

Young woman looking in mirror and picking her teeth with her finger.

During the pandemic, Americans adopted new habits. Overnight, many people found themselves quarantined, working from home or furloughed. These sudden changes created stress and anxiety. To help them cope, many exchanged business or work attire for sweats and PJs. People ate more comfort foods and snacks, binged on TV shows, and skipped their daily oral care routines. A year after the COVID-19 shutdown, dental professionals are noticing more patients have serious dental problems. Here is how to better understand the pandemic’s impact on oral health.

Worn, cracked teeth

When stressed, many people clench their jaw and grind their teeth. Often, they do this at night and may not know it until a family member or the dentist tells them. Grinding wears down tooth enamel. Jaw clenching can cause headaches, jaw pain and affect people’s bite.

Research in early 2021 found that 70% of dentists had noticed an increase in the number of patients showing signs of teeth grinding and clenching. In the same study conducted in the fall, dentists indicated only 60% of patients were grinding or clenching their teeth. Teeth grinding can cause chipped or cracked teeth. This can lead to serious dental problems, such as lost teeth and the need for expensive dental procedures.

Decay and disease

The pandemic caused significant disruptions in people’s lives. Many coped by stress eating, snacking and putting off everyday habits, including brushing and flossing their teeth. A study by the American Association of Endodontists found that adults did not practice good brushing and flossing habits during the pandemic.

Here are six key things people reported:

  1. 25% waited until late morning to brush their teeth; 21% did not brush at all in the morning
  2. 23% forgot to brush their teeth at bedtime
  3. 24% reported flossing less frequently; 23% forgot to floss
  4. 31% snacked more on sweets and candy
  5. 28% did not schedule a dental visit
  6. 43% of millennials indicated that working from home or attending online classes caused disruptions in their dental hygiene habits

Since dental offices were closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, people could not schedule checkups and cleanings. They had to put off minor dental needs, such as fillings, too. As a result, dentists have noticed an increase in patients needing more extensive dental care. They also found more incidences of gum disease.

Daily brushing and flossing are essential to keeping teeth and gums healthy. Brushing helps remove food particles that collect between teeth and along the gums. Oral bacteria can combine with these particles to form plaque on teeth. If the plaque is not removed, it can attack enamel, causing decay and possibly leading to tooth loss.

Although Americans are stressed and anxious, dentists encourage adults and children to care for their teeth better. Keeping teeth healthy helps reduce the risk of a costly dental procedure, such as a filling, crown, root canal, bridge or implant.

For a healthy mouth, brush 2 minutes, twice a day, usually in the morning and at bedtime. Make sure to brush all tooth surfaces. Learn more tips to help you take better care of your teeth.

Dentists also recommend flossing once a day to lower the risk of developing gum disease. Flossing helps remove food particles stuck between teeth and along the gumline. Floss first, then brush.

Dry mouth

Many people who wear a mask for several hours each day complain of having a dry mouth. Dry mouth often is caused when people breathe through their mouth instead of their nose. They also may breathe faster.

Breathing through the mouth can cause bad breath and dryness of the mouth. When the mouth is dry, saliva cannot flow to rinse off food particles, keep oral tissues moist and prevent tooth decay. Learn more about how to prevent dryness of the mouth when wearing a mask.

Dental offices across the country are open and taking care of patient’s oral health needs. Find out what dentists are doing to keep offices clean so patients can relax and feel safe during dental procedures.

American Dental Association
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