young woman in bathrobe brushing her teeth with wooden toothbrush

The Impact of the Pandemic on Oral Health

Date: June 01, 2021

Author: Mandy Dennis, RDH

As our dental offices are beginning to return to a more regular state, we can reflect on how the past year has impacted not only our day-to-day lives, but also our practices and our patients. Our patients' financial, mental, emotional and dental health may have changed little, somewhat or greatly, depending on their individual circumstances. Now more than ever, it’s important that we are listening to our patients and evaluating our recommendations to help ensure we are addressing their needs. Thinking about the changes we have seen in our patients' oral health over the past year, we have seen a variety of scenarios.

Celebrating Routine Care

Patients may have skipped a routine six-monthly hygiene visit. This missed appointment could have been for a variety of reasons including a change in job status, reduced financial means, restrictions or possibly the availability of you as their dental hygienist. Changes in daily habits and lack of routine care can make a big difference. It’s possible more calculus and inflammation may be present. It’s important to praise your patient for making their oral health a priority as they come back into your office. Discussing oral hygiene habits will be important. Brushing and flossing may have been skipped along with changes to work and school. Sleeping in and staying up late changes routines. Reiterate the importance of putting these practices back in place. Colgate’s new hum toothbrush with Bluetooth technology can be a great new addition to a patient's daily routine. This toothbrush tracks the frequency, duration and efficiency of brushing and can help your patient get back into a more routine schedule.

Medications aren’t good for everything

Dentistry IQ reminds us medical histories should be updated once a year or when a major change in a patient’s life occurs. It is no surprise the pandemic has greatly impacted every person in some way. In a comparison of October - December 2019 and 2020, a 6% increase in prescriptions for antidepressant medications was noted in one report in England. We also saw increases in antidepressant and antianxiety medication use here. Updating the medications section of the medical history form at each visit is vital to ensuring we understand potential risk factors and outcomes, for instance the increased risk for caries associated with dry mouth as a side effect of these and many other medications. These medications have obviously been important in helping patients during the pandemic, and it is also important that we know about them. Discuss with your patient how dry mouth can increase their caries risk and how important additional fluoride can be in decreasing the possibility of caries caused by the additional medications.

Snacking and pH Changes

Changes in day-to-day activities and routines have brought on dietary habits which may include higher sugar intake from foods and drinks. Many patients began snacking throughout the day, which resulted in more frequent drops in intraoral pH levels. When the pH drops sufficiently, minerals are depleted from the teeth. If this continues repeatedly without adequate remineralization, an increase in dental caries occurs.

Recommendations

Encouraging patients to drink more water and snack less, and adding prescription-strength fluoride like PreviDent 5000 Booster Plus, into the daily routines of patients at increased risk for dental caries can help to prevent and reverse caries. For our patients with dry mouth, products such as PreviDent 5000 Dry Mouth can be a great addition to your patients new routine. This prescription-level fluoride is also formulated to appeal to dry mouth sufferers.

Takeaways

- Encouraging patients to maintain their routine dental visits and recommending appropriate home care products will help the best habits get back on track.

- Remembering the mouth is connected to the body and how medications can impact oral health is essential as a part of the puzzle

- Prescription-level fluorides help to prevent and reduce dental caries for patients at increased risk

As we look to life getting back to normal and discuss oral health routines with our patients, it’s important to remember that it may take time. Asking our patients the right questions can help us help them.