Scientists expect the COVID-19 virus to remain a concern for months to come, even as officials discuss easing up on stay-at-home orders and restrictions on businesses.
When restrictions are initially lifted, many people will maintain social distancing and other precautions for their own and others’ protection.
But your dental health is as important as your overall health.
So, while staying #SafeAtHome, here are some ways you can protect your oral health:
The Standards: While we agree that pajamas are a perfectly acceptable choice during lockdown, it’s all too easy to let personal hygiene slide when you don’t have to go into the office. Sticking to a routine of brushing and flossing, especially during times of upheaval and uncertainty, is one of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy. You’re removing plaque, food particles, and bacteria while infusing your teeth with fluoride.
“We carry about 20 million bacteria in our mouths, and that bacteria doubles in population every eight to 12 hours,” says Austin Dentist Samantha Hollinger, DMD. “Bacteria can cause a lot of oral and other health issues, but brushing and flossing are really effective tools for keeping them in check.”
- Brush We all know by now that the magic number for handwashing is 20 seconds; but do you know that it’s 2 minutes for teeth? At least two times a day, using a soft-bristle toothbrush and a toothpaste with fluoride. Your tooth enamel is more vulnerable immediately after eating or drinking, so swish your mouth with clean water and wait at least 20 minutes before brushing.
- Don’t forget to brush your tongue, as well. If you’re not in the habit, it might seem strange, but it is amazing how much plaque can accumulate on your tongue. Brush side to side rather than front and back to avoid gagging.
- Use dental floss once or twice daily to remove particles from between your teeth. Toothpicks, your own fingernails, and other blunt objects can cause damage to your tooth enamel and your gums and are simply not as effective as dental floss at getting between teeth.
- Clean dental appliances and dentures, disinfecting them daily. They can harbor the same harmful bacteria and other pathogens as your natural teeth. There’s little point in brushing and flossing your teeth if you’re then going to insert a dental appliance or dentures that haven’t been cleaned.
Keep Your Hands Out of Your Mouth
Never an easy habit to break, nail or cuticle biting may worsen during times of stress. But this is precisely when you shouldn’t be introducing unknown types and quantities of pathogens directly into your mouth. Here are a few things to try that can help:
- Trim your nails shorter, giving bacteria less space in which to hide.
- Give your hands something else to do, such as squeezing a stress ball, working beads or a rosary, or playing with a fidget toy.
- Chew gum as a substitute for chewing nails or cuticles. Side benefit: chewing gum activates your salivary glands. Saliva contains protective components and helps to dilute contaminants.
- Wear a mouth guard. You can’t chew on your nails or cuticles if you have a dental appliance in place. Just make sure you disinfect it daily.
- Keep your hands clean. We’ve all seen the handwashing recommendations by now, but if you’re prone to nail and/or cuticle biting, do your best to keep your hands clean. Pay special attention to the nails and nail beds every time you wash your hands.
Don’t use your teeth as tools. Another bad habit that’s best to break when you’re trying to social distance—because using your teeth to open bottles, crack nuts, or rip open packages could damage your enamel or even break a tooth.
Stay hydrated. This is a good idea from a general health standpoint, but also because it helps with the production of saliva, which acts like a mini washing machine for your mouth.
Limit alcohol and tobacco use. Not to be a Debbie Downer at a time when many people would turn to alcohol and tobacco to deal with stress, but they’re not great for your mouth. They dry out your oral tissue, weaken your immune system, and make you more vulnerable to disease.
Stay or Go?
If you develop mouth pain, bleeding, or other oral issues while trying to stay at home, here are a few ways you can cope:
- Bleeding gums/gum disease — Use warm saltwater rinses to help alleviate symptoms. Once the Governor’s orders are lifted, dental offices open again for routine appointments, and you’re comfortable venturing out, schedule an appointment for an evaluation, cleaning, and possible treatment with antibiotics.
- Pain/tooth decay — Tooth pain is one symptom that under normal conditions Dr. Hollinger advises a visit to the dentist right away. “You could have a cavity, gum disease, chipped enamel, or something else that’s only going to get worse and get more expensive the longer you wait.” Until you can get to your dentist, try the rinses noted in this article.
- Canker sores — Use warm saltwater rinses, skip spicy and acidic foods, try adding vitamins B and C to your supplements, avoid smoking and alcohol, and apply over-the-counter numbing medication directly to the sore. If canker sores are a frequent problem, consult your dentist.
- Jaw issues — Massage your jaw (washing hands before and after), avoid hard foods and chewing ice, and try to be aware of/keep your jaw loose throughout the day. As soon as allowable, see your dentist so they can create a properly fitted night guard, prescribe anti-inflammatories, and evaluate damage caused by clenching and grinding.
- Dry mouth — Sip water frequently, chew sugar-free gum or suck sugar-free mints, limit caffeine, avoid tobacco use, breathe through your nose, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, and try a mouthwash designed for dry mouth. If dry mouth does not subside once the virus threat is gone, consult your dentist.
Contact TRU Dentistry Austin today to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are open for all dental care services and we’re taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of our patients, staff, and community.