Coronavirus and dental health: how do I care for my teeth?

We’ve all been monitoring the latest news surrounding COVID-19, and the impact it has on our communities, neighbourhoods, and families. We understand this can be a stressful time. You may not be able to visit your dentist for routine cleanings, fillings, and crowns, or you might be concerned about seeking help for a dental emergency. To help clear up confusion and make sure you have trusted answers, we've created a list of commonly asked questions to help you better navigate your oral health during this time.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can good oral hygiene prevent COVID-19?

While we are still learning more about COVID-19 and its spread, there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be prevented by engaging in good oral hygiene. However, we do know that practising good oral hygiene can reduce dental diseases like cavities and periodontal disease and maintaining good oral health positively impacts your overall health.

It’s important to note that respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 initiate and spread in the nasal cavity and the throat. Touching one’s eye can also be a source of transmission. Practising good oral hygiene will have no effect on these locations.

The CDC has a number of recommendations on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, however the recommendations don’t include oral hygiene practices as a protective measure. While you and your family are staying home to help prevent the spread, in addition to the recommended CDC measures, take the opportunity to showcase and encourage good oral care habits for your kids.

 

What are dentists doing to prevent COVID-19?

The CDC recommends that "dental facilities postpone elective procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent dental visits, and prioritise urgent and emergency visits and procedures now and for the coming several weeks." This is to prevent the spread of the pandemic, protect staff, and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) during this time. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that dentists should use their professional judgement in determining a patient’s need for urgent or emergency care.

 

Can zinc kill COVID-19?

No, zinc can’t kill the COVID-19 virus. Let's start with the basics. Zinc is an essential mineral known for its antibacterial properties and plays a critical role in our bodies, including the promotion of a healthy immune system. Additionally, zinc is naturally present in our mouths and zinc in toothpaste is safe for use.

However, the use of zinc to kill or prevent the COVID-19 virus has not been studied or validated. The best way to help protect yourself against COVID-19 is to follow CDC guidelines and practise social distancing.

 

Should I go to the dentist during the COVID-19 outbreak?

No, only visit your dentist if it’s an emergency. Looking for coronavirus dental care tips? You can call your dentist to help assess whether your dental ailment falls into the urgent or emergency category. Even if your dental practice is closed, there may be an emergency number or contact instructions available on its voicemail message. Below, we provide some tips on managing non-emergency dental ailments to better help you care for your teeth safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Managing non-emergency dental ailments

  • Broken braces

    The brackets and wires of traditional braces are fragile and can break for a number of reasons. Broken wires and brackets can be sharp and uncomfortable but do not usually constitute an emergency. Reach out to your orthodontist or dentist, who can provide some advice for simple home treatment. This may include some tips to manage a broken bracket wire at home.

  • Dry mouth (Xerostomia)

    Dry mouth can be caused by over 600 medications (including diuretics and antihistamines), nutritional deficiencies or natural hormonal changes. Keep your mouth moist by drinking plenty of water and chewing on sugarless gum. Using a saliva substitute can also combat dryness and help keep your mouth healthy.

  • Mouth irritation

    Drinking an excessive amount of acidic and carbonated beverages like soda, over-brushing your tongue, and overusing your mouthwash can irritate the tissues of the mouth. Try drinking fewer or less acidic drinks. Talk to your dentist about your oral hygiene habits and how to minimise irritation in your mouth.

  • Bleeding gums

    Your daily oral hygiene routine should include brushing twice daily and flossing once daily. If your gums bleed while you are flossing, this could be a sign of inflammation and gingivitis or gum disease (periodontal disease). It may help to use a rinse to reduce bacteria or rinse with warm salt water if your gums are sore. If you have pain or the bleeding continues, please contact your dentist.

  • Gingivitis

    Bleeding gums is a key sign of gingivitis. The good news is that gingivitis is usually reversible with a good oral hygiene programme. Treating gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease) is as easy as one-two-three: brushing, flossing and professional check-ups and cleanings. Using mouthrinse in addition to proper brushing and flossing habits can also be effective at reducing gingivitis. Follow-up with your dentist for further information or concerns about gingivitis when you’re able to resume with regular check-up visits and cleanings.

  • Plaque build-up

    Plaque is a layer of bacteria that lives in the mouth and sticks to the teeth. Some types can cause tooth decay, while others cause gum disease. To keep plaque from building up, make sure you’re flossing to remove germs and food particles from between teeth. Mouthwash can also be effective at reducing plaque build-up. Brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes with a fluoride toothpaste, and don’t forget to brush your tongue!

    If you’re worried about plaque build-up but unable to visit your dentist, there are tablets or stains you can purchase to show where plaque is on your teeth and gums so you can make sure your removal techniques are working.

What constitutes a dental emergency?

According to the ADA, a dental emergency is one that is potentially life-threatening and requires immediate treatment for:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Bacterial infection that could compromise the patient’s airway
  • Trauma involving facial bones, potentially compromising the patient’s airway

Urgent dental care are those conditions that require immediate attention to relieve pain or risk of infection. The ADA recommends that dentists should use their professional judgement in determining a patient’s need for urgent or emergency care.

We understand that the different responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can make people unsure of what qualifies as urgent dental care or a dental emergency. Here are some instances where you should contact your dentist immediately:

  • If a large piece of the tooth or the whole tooth is missing
  • Nerve damage is apparent, such as feeling of numbness
  • You are showing signs of an abscess or infection (pain, swelling, hot to the touch and redness)
  • If you suspect that you or someone else has a broken jaw
  • If you've had a recent root canal and are worried about the level of pain

We hope these tips are helpful, so you can take the best care of yourself and each other.