We’ve all been monitoring the latest news surrounding COVID-19, and the impact it continues to have on our communities, neighborhoods, and families. We understand this is a stressful time and you might be wondering if it is safe to visit your dentist. You may not be able to visit your dentist for routine cleanings, fillings, and crowns, or you might be concerned about seeking help if you have a severe toothache, swelling or another 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.
How Do I Care For My Teeth During The Coronavirus Pandemic?
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 practicing 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 oral cavity and throat. Touching one’s eye can also be a source of transmission. Practicing good oral hygiene will have no effect on transmission to these locations.
The CDC has a number of recommendations about how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, however the recommendations don’t include oral hygiene practices as a protective measure. If 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.
It’s a great practice to clean your toothbrush after every use. If you’re recovering from an illness, including if you tested positive for or believe you had COVID-19, it’s smart to replace your toothbrush. If you’re unable to replace it, consider disinfecting the brush head to help reduce bacteria.
According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 reported a wide range of symptoms 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus including a cough, aches and pains, fever, and loss of taste and smell. Currently, it’s difficult to state what kind of oral manifestations will result as the disease and symptoms continue to evolve. Additionally, many oral symptoms may be caused by other illnesses or allergies. If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, the CDC recommends that "dental settings should balance the need to provide necessary services while minimizing risk to patients and dental healthcare personnel." The CDC has also provided a framework for healthcare personnel and systems for the delivery of non-emergency care. Please follow any directions from your dentist about reducing the risk of transmission.
As businesses open back up and stay-at-home orders are lifted, your dental office will likely start seeing patients again for routine care. As non-emergency procedures are scheduled, emergency cases may still be prioritized. You can call your dentist to help assess whether your dental ailment falls into the urgent or emergency category.
If your dentist's office is still not open, there may be an emergency number or contact instructions available on their 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.
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 general dentist who can provide some advice for simple home treatment. This may include some tips to manage a broken bracket or broken wire at home.
Dry mouth (Xerostomia)
Over 600 medications such as diuretics and anti-histamines, nutritional deficiencies, or natural hormonal changes can cause dry mouth. Keep your mouth moist by drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum. Using a saliva substitute may also combat dryness and help keep your mouth more comfortable and provide relief from symptoms. Keep in mind that saliva substitutes are not approved for therapeutic benefit unless they have fluoride.
Drinking an excessive amount of acidic beverages such as carbonated beverages like soda, over-brushing your tongue and gums, and overusing your mouthwash can irritate mouth tissues. Try drinking fewer or less acidic drinks. Talk to your dentist about your oral hygiene habits and how to minimize irritations in your mouth.
Your daily oral hygiene routine should include brushing twice daily and flossing once daily. If your gums bleed while you’re flossing, this could be a sign of inflammation and gum diseases such as gingivitis or periodontitis. 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 continued bleeding, please contact your dentist.
Bleeding gums may be a key sign of gingivitis. The good news is that gingivitis is usually reversible with a good oral hygiene program. 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, concerns and a comprehensive oral evaluation when you’re able to resume with regular check-up visits and cleanings.
Plaque is composed of bacterial complexes that live in the mouth and stick 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 disclosing tablets or stains you can purchase to show where plaque is located on your teeth and gums so you can make sure your removal techniques are working effectively.
According to the ADA Guidelines, 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 judgment in determining a patient’s need for urgent or emergency care.
We understand that different federal, state, and local 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 total 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 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, swelling or malaise
- Any other abnormal symptoms
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 included 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 wash your hands, follow CDC guidelines, and practice social distancing.
Masks help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus by creating a barrier to stop respiratory droplets from traveling into the air or onto other people when a person wearing a mask coughs, sneezes, or talks. Though masks play a critical role in containing viral transmissions, they sometimes produce unpleasant side effects. Mask mouth occurs when prolonged mask-wearing causes dry mouth, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. Mask wearers are more likely to breathe through their mouths and drink less water, decreasing the saliva that helps fight cavities and stinky breath. Plus, the mask traps more carbon dioxide in your mouth than usual, increasing the acidity of your oral microbiome, which puts you at risk for inflammatory conditions.
If you experience some of these symptoms, keep wearing your mask. Wearing your mask slows the spread of the virus and protects the vulnerable in your community. To treat mask mouth, implement some of these preventative measures:
- Practice good oral hygiene, brushing your teeth twice daily, and cleaning between your teeth with floss or other interdental devices daily.
- Watch out for gingivitis, and if you notice tender, swollen, or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as you safely can for treatment.
- Regularly replace or clean your mask, so the bacteria you breathe out do not grow and cause odor.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and limiting alcohol and coffee consumption to decrease dry mouth.
- Contact your dentist for oral complications and your dermatologist for skin issues related to extended mask use.
We hope these tips are helpful, so you can take the best care of yourself and each other.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.