It’s no secret that the last year of our lives has brought us face to face with some serious health challenges. The COVID pandemic forced vast and lasting changes onto many of our lives, and the issue isn’t resolved yet. As we all work to find ways to social distance, mask, and keep each other safe, every aspect of health care has had to adapt to our new normal. Dentist offices around the world are working to find ways to provide high-quality care in the safest possible way. As we continue our journey through the pandemic, dental providers are also noticing some other issues related to COVID. In particular “mask mouth” and other stress-related oral health issues are on the rise. By knowing what they are and what causes them, we can all do our part in the prevention and help maintain our oral health.
“Mask Mouth”, as it has come to be called, is an interesting new oral health challenge arising from the widespread use of masking as a means of disease control during the pandemic. Essentially, mask wearers subconsciously become accustomed to breathing through their mouths while masked. This small change of habit can lead to dry mouth, a condition where there’s just not enough saliva. A dry mouth can contribute to gum disease and even lead to tooth damage or tooth loss if left unabated. The solution is simple, however: stay in the habit of breathing through your nose even while wearing a mask. It’s fairly easy to do and builds a good habit and good oral health. Likewise, drinking more water helps your body stay hydrated and contributes to good saliva flow, which in turn keeps your teeth healthy.
Another COVID-related oral health issue is the sharp rise in stress-related complications. In brief, dentists everywhere are seeing a rise in the number of patients reporting everything from sore jaws to teeth grinding and even damaged/chipped teeth from grinding or jaw clenching. These can be serious problems; tooth loss may result from any of these causes if they’re left untreated. If you notice any of the symptoms of teeth grinding or jaw clenching: sore jaw, headaches, the tension in the face or neck, or worn/damaged teeth, you should tell your dentist right away. A number of solutions exist, ranging from an over-the-counter mouth guard to protect the teeth at night to medications for stress and muscle tension to therapy to get at the root cause of the issue. The important thing is to address the problem quickly: ignoring it and hoping it will go away on its own only makes things worse.
The COVID pandemic is an ongoing challenge for all of us, and in these busy and difficult times, it can be easy to forget about oral hygiene and tooth care. The fact is that these things are more important than ever. So take care of your teeth, address the problems before they arise, and keep making regular appointments with your dentist for exams and cleanings. When things get back to normal, you’ll be glad that you did.