Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing health challenges continue to impact patients and our mental health. This has become more obvious to dentists as we are seeing an increase in stress related illnesses, like bruxism (grinding of teeth), chipped and cracked teeth from trauma, jaw joint disorders and cavities and periodontal diseases.
In this column, we will discuss how the Covid pandemic caused significant increase in dental diseases.
Covid-19 is a coronavirus that attacks the respiratory system. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and sometimes death. Patients who die from complications of Covid-19 suffer mainly because they become immunocompromised.
Studies show a direct association between the immunocompromised associated with the covid pandemic and the many patients who suffer from rampant tooth decay and gum disease. Here are a few important factors at play:
Stress and the immune system– Stress affects the body’s ability to fight off infection. Also, stress impacts the body’s overall hormone balance causing the production of stress-related hormones cortisol, which has widespread effects throughout the body.
Stress reduces saliva production and flow, leading to more dry mouth. Dry mouth (xerostomia) leads to thicker and stickier plaque. Since saliva is necessary to neutralize acids that come from decay-causing bacteria, a thick or limited supply of saliva results in aggressive tooth decay.
Also, long-term stress can lead to anxiety and depression. This leads to prescribed medications designed to manage the stress. Many of these medications have side effects such as dry mouth.
Mouth breathing, associated with constant mask wearing causes dry mouth. This causes a change in the pH and the flora of bacteria in the oral cavity. Dry mouth does not only contribute to changes, but stress also impacts the body’s bacterial balance. This imbalance leads to more bad bacteria, which cause conditions including tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Stress-related eating can lead to an increase in cavities- The classic comfort foods are often high in sugar, and carbohydrates which alters the overall bacteria make-up in a way that more decay-causing bacteria flourish.
Also, the pandemic affected a person’s overall dietary choices and increased the frequency of meals. As patients have been working more at home and less at the workplace, many patients may find themselves eating different foods or snacking more frequently at home. Many eat in their bedroom and fall asleep without brushing their teeth. Here again, this changes the overall oral environment. If patients have not changed their oral hygiene habits to compensate for this, then decay rates are likely to increase.
For those patients that already suffer from poor oral hygiene or who already have dental disease, this created a perfect storm for a significant increase in the rate of cavities and other dental problems.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a significant increase in health challenges for most of the public. Even now a few years later since those dreaded “lockdowns” we are still reeling from this experience. As patients continue to return to dental offices with rampant cavities and periodontal disease, dentists will educate and seek to manage these severe oral health conditions.
Practice good habits and see a dentist at your earliest opportunity to avoid the covid-19 related dental emergencies.
Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected]