Pearly Whites: Pandemic Dental Tips
Good oral hygiene may not be on the to-do list during the Covid-19 crisis, a toothache can quickly make things worse during lockdown
As the second wave of the pandemic rages on, many dental clinics are either temporarily closed or not performing the full range of treatments in an attempt to reduce the risk of aerosols. Being forced to stay at home changes our entire lifestyle, which includes not having routine health checks. While good dental hygiene may not be on the long list of things to do during the Covid-19 crisis, a toothache can quickly make things worse because you may not be able to visit the dentist due to quarantine or clinic closure.
So here are some common tips for maintaining good oral health at home.
Plate check is possible with two to three minutes of proper brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day.
Dental floss can be done either with threaded dental floss or with new generation water flossers, which are more efficient but require a portable motorized device.
Rinse the mouth well after each meal with lukewarm salt water or a mouthwash should be a must.
It is strongly recommended that you eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
Mouthwash should be used judiciously. Long-term use of a mouthwash is not recommended as some mouthwash formulas can cause taste alteration and stains on the teeth. Do not swallow your mouthwash.
Studies have shown that a 0.2 percent concentration of povidone-iodine for mouthwash (commonly known as betadine) has been shown to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid because it lowers the viral load.
The reduction in viral load due to healthy oral practices has also shown a decreased risk and severity of pneumonia in patients affected by Covid.
Resist adopting unhealthy eating or snacking habits due to the boredom or stress inherent in midlife. Starchy foods or carbonated drinks cause acid to build up in the mouth, which dissolves tooth surfaces. The more often our teeth are bathed in these acids, the weaker and softer they become. It’s best to avoid fiber-free carbohydrates, which act like pure sugar and contribute to plaque build-up. Avoiding processed foods and increasing the intake of fresh fruits, vegetables and fibrous foods would lead to better oral and general health.
It is very important to stay well hydrated and not to smoke and drink too much. Smoking inhibits the blood supply to your gums and increases the risk of gum infections. Heavy exposure to alcohol can dry out your cheek and gum cells. Chewing on ice, pen caps, or fingernails as a stress management aid can cause teeth to chip or break. It is also recommended to avoid hard foods that can crack a tooth or damage the toppings, such as popcorn, brittle and sticky peanut candy.
While it is always best to call or teleconsult the dentist regarding a dental problem, there are a few home remedies that can be used to treat or control the problem temporarily.
While it’s important to determine the cause of the pain, regular salt water rinsing can help with minor irritation. Salt water is a natural disinfectant, and it can help loosen food particles and debris that may be stuck between the teeth. It can also help reduce inflammation and heal mouth sores.
For a toothache due to cavities, the age-old remedy of clove oil is a very effective way to temporarily control the pain. A drop or two can be added to a small cotton ball and placed in the cavity. If symptoms persist for more than a day or two, or if there is swelling, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may need to be prescribed by a dentist. Avoid using too much clove oil as it can cause minor burns or temporary taste alteration. Take it easy on the salt concentration in the mouthwash in known hypertensive patients.
Mouth / ulcer / oral irritation
Applying an oral ointment containing a local anesthetic to the affected area 15 minutes before each meal is advised. An oral ointment containing chlorhexidine or a betadine rinse is known to be effective in killing microorganisms. In painful wounds, applying a local anesthetic gel (available over the counter) before meals is helpful. A sharp tooth causing soft tissue trauma to the tongue, lips or cheeks should be treated immediately as there is a long-term risk of developing oral cancer in uncontrolled cases.
Cap (crown) or dislodged bridge
It is important to keep the crown or bridge aside safely in a container until the next dentist appointment, instead of trying to put it back in place and causing a broken crown or broken tooth. Dislodged crowns can also be swallowed or aspirated.
Clean your toothbrush
Viruses can attach themselves to the plastic, soft bristles, and other components of a toothbrush. Therefore, it is better to clean toothbrushes regularly. A good mouthwash combined with a little hydrogen peroxide, followed by a thorough rinse under the tap, can help keep a clean toothbrush.
Accident or trauma to the tooth or gums
First of all, it is important not to panic and to stay calm. If bleeding occurs, pressure should be applied to the area with clean cotton wool preferably soaked in cold water. An ice pack can also be applied. If there is persistent bleeding, a call to the dentist is essential.
Dental “ emergencies ” requiring a visit to the dentist include:
1. Toothache with swelling (which does not go away after antibiotic treatment)
2. Trauma or fracture of the tooth / jaws following an accident
3. Constant bleeding from the gums
4. Swelling or pain around the gums or neck
5. Tooth pain in people receiving radiation therapy or other cancer treatment
6. Cutting or adjusting braces of braces that injure the cheek or gums
7. Post-surgical swelling with uncontrolled pain
8. Broken dentures or ill-fitting sharp dentures.
In general, only visit clinics where dentists and their staff take appropriate precautions against Covid-19 and personal protective equipment. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative to always make a call or have an online consultation with the dentist before going to the dental clinic to give the doctor time to make the necessary arrangements.
Dr Kamlesh Kothari is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon practicing at Aesthetica in Calcutta. He is a former Project Director (Calcutta) for Smile Train (US), the world’s largest organization working on the treatment of craniofacial cracks and deformities.