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?
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 conditions like cavities and periodontal disease, and maintaining good oral health has a positive impact on your overall health.
It’s important to note that respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 begin 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.
South Africa's official COVID-19 online news and information portal has a number of recommendations about how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. These recommendations do not, however, include oral hygiene practices as a protective measure. If you and your family are staying at home to help prevent the spread, take the opportunity to showcase and encourage good oral care habits for your children in addition to the measures recommended on the official COVID-19 online news and information portal.
What are dentists doing to prevent COVID-19?
The South African Dental Association (SADA) states that dental practitioners "nationwide should seriously consider postponing elective dental procedures until the pandemic clears or it is safe to resume normal dental practice". This is not only a recommendation, but a directive from the government (and therefore law). Accordingly, any elective dental procedures should be postponed for the duration of the lockdown. This will help prevent the spread of the pandemic, protect staff, and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) during this time.
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 anti-germ properties and plays a critical role in our bodies, including by promoting 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 official guidelines and practise social distancing.
Should I go to the dentist during the COVID-19 outbreak?
No, only visit your dentist in the case of 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 dentist's office is closed, 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.
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 tips to manage a broken bracket wire at home.
- Dry mouth (Xerostomia)
Over 600 medications, such as diuretics and anti-histamines, nutritional deficiencies, and natural hormonal changes can cause dry mouth. 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 beverages, such as carbonated beverages like soda, over-brushing your tongue, and overusing your mouthwash can irritate mouth tissues. Try drinking fewer acidic drinks. Talk to your dentist about your oral hygiene habits and how to minimise irritations in your mouth.
- Bleeding gums
Your daily oral hygiene routine should include twice-daily brushing and once-daily flossing. If your gums bleed while you are flossing, this could be a sign of inflammation and gum problems or periodontal disease. It may help to use a rinse to reduce germs or rinse with warm salt water if your gums are sore. If you have pain or the bleeding continues, please contact your dentist.
Bleeding gums is a key sign of gum problems. The good news is that gum problems are usually reversible with a good oral hygiene routine. Treating gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease) is as easy as one-two-three: brushing, flossing and professional check-ups and cleanings. Using mouthwash in addition to proper brushing and flossing habits can also be effective at reducing gum problems. Follow up with your dentist for further information or concerns about gum problems when you’re able to resume with regular check-up visits and cleanings.
- Plaque build-up
Plaque is a layer of germs that occurs in the mouth and sticks to the teeth. Some types of plaque can cause tooth cavities, while others cause gum problems. To keep plaque from building up, make sure you floss regularly to remove germs and food particles from between your 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
- Germ infection that could compromise the patient’s airway
- Trauma involving facial bones, potentially compromising the patient’s airway
"Urgent dental care" refers to 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 government 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
- If nerve damage is apparent, such as feeling of numbness
- If 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.
We hope these tips are helpful, so you can take the best care of yourself and each other.