| Special to the Register-Guard
Dentists seeing surge in poor oral hygiene due to pandemic
Stress and isolation due to the pandemic are certainly bad for our mental health, but dentists are seeing evidence our oral health is suffering too.
We’re juggling a lot these days. In addition to our usual responsibilities, we are taking precautions to avoid the coronavirus, and our additional effort and stress may mean that some of our home health care routines have slipped. It’s understandable, and it won’t take much to get back into a good routine.
Dentists rely on patients carrying out home dental care between office visits. But did you know you should brush twice daily for two minutes each time?
Check to be sure your toothbrush is in good shape; in fact, one of your best investments in tooth care is a new brush every few months before the bristles begin to splay. Some brushes have color-changing bristles so you know when it’s time to buy a new one. Be sure to buy a soft brush; brushing with hard bristles may erode the tooth structure. You may want to use an electric toothbrush, which removes plaque or debris through its movement.
Whatever style of brush you use, avoid scrubbing vigorously so you don’t add wear and tear to your gums or teeth.
Choose a fluoridated toothpaste. If you use mouthwash, select one that is alcohol-free.
Flossing is another ingredient in your home care recipe. Floss reaches places your brush can’t, which means it can remove harmful bacteria and plaque. Floss gently twice a day. Your teeth and gums will thank you for getting rid of those leftover bits of food. If a long string of floss is awkward to use, other options include pre-threaded floss, a dental pick or an interdental floss holder. Remember that while a water flosser is helpful if you have gum disease or want to remove debris from braces, it is not a replacement for flossing.
While we know we should avoid eating food with a lot of sugar, especially sugary cereals, snacks and desserts, comfort foods are more of a priority during this pandemic. Do your best, though, to select healthier options.
It’s best not to drink carbonated beverages, either, but if you do want one, finish it quickly. If you sip it throughout the day, you will lower your mouth’s pH, which may weaken your tooth enamel. After you finish the drink, don’t brush your teeth for 20 minutes. Instead, drink water, which will reduce the potential staining and allow time for your mouth to return to a normal pH.
In fact, it’s a good idea to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
In stressful times like these, smoking is another habit that we sometimes pick up or go back to. Both cigarettes and chewing tobacco may cause oral cancers, and they definitely affect your teeth and gums by limiting the blood flow to your mouth. Because your oral and physical health are affected by smoking, Kaiser Permanente members with medical coverage can enroll in a smoking cessation program, and other providers may offer them, too.
Smoking and some medications can affect your saliva production. Without enough moisture in the mouth, you may be more prone to developing cavities. Try over-the-counter products to help alleviate any discomfort associated with dry mouth.
If you have young children, they will need supervision and guidance as they develop their dental health habits. Bring your children to the dentist by their first birthday or when their first tooth erupts. Baby teeth set the stage for the mouth’s skeletal growth and the proper spacing for the permanent teeth. With early dental visits, we can check for any anatomical abnormalities, explain preventive care and familiarize your child with going to the dentist. Yes, those baby teeth should be brushed. It can be fun and instructive for children to brush and then chew a disclosing tablet that clings to plaque so they can see the places their brushing missed. Once children are old enough to write their names in cursive, they will have the dexterity to brush and floss effectively on their own.
And even with your at-home dental care, don’t neglect dental cleanings and appointments. Dental offices use COVID-19 protocols, including screenings, regular cleaning of surfaces and equipment, and masks so that even during the pandemic, you can maintain your healthy smile.
Tara Paluska, DDS, is a Kaiser Permanente dentist. Read more about Kaiser Permanente’s Eugene medical and dental offices at kp.org/lane.