During the Covid-19, many people avoided going to the dentist unless it was a very pressing issue with their teeth, many are still that way now. People have been afraid of coming into contact with Covid in public places, and, in the case of the dentist, of having to remove their masks and have doctors check them.
However, now that we have booster shots and other treatments, many people are returning to the dentist after a long absence. However, they are presenting with issues that are frequently the result of missed dental exams and cleanings.
Many patients are playing catch-up after avoiding the dentist for an extended period of time, according to Dr Richard M. Lipari of Lipari & Mangiameli Dentistry in New York. Others are dealing with routine dental issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic or from long-standing issues.
Dentists discuss the most common dental issues they’re seeing right now:
We are living in stressful times, thanks to the pandemic, a potential recession, and political turmoil (among other things).
According to Dr Albert Coombs, owner of Smile Services DC and member of the International Dental Implant Association, one of the ways our bodies respond to stress is through bruxing, or teeth grinding. This is one of the most serious issues that dentists have recently encountered.
When you grind your teeth, you break down the enamel and create vertical or horizontal fractions in the tooth. “Depending on the type of fractures, we can do a large filling, a root canal or even have to remove the tooth because it was just that far damaged,” Coombs says.
It’s important to treat the grinding itself – not just the problems, like tooth fractures, that result. “If we are not treating the bruxism, the tooth is just going to get re-damaged,” Coombs says. “If it broke a healthy tooth, it will break a tooth with a filling in it, it will break a root canal and it will even damage an implant.”
Wearing a mouthguard at night, getting Botox, and having a healthy stress management plan are all treatments for teeth grinding.
“We’re seeing a higher rate of cavities, and we think a lot of it has to do with the lifestyle change for people,” Lipari says. That pandemic-induced shift has to do with more hours at home, with full access to your fridge and pantry.
“I think we’re finding people are snacking a bit more, especially on foods that maybe they weren’t eating as routinely when they were going to and from their office,” Lipari says.
According to him, this lifestyle change, which includes more frequent consumption of sugary foods and drinks for many people, is leading to an increase in tooth decay.
Overall dental issues as a result of neglect
“Dental problems are kind of like roof leaks,” Coombs says. “If you have a small roof leak, it might go away for a little bit, but you know it’s going to come back far worse.” The same goes for dental problems.
“Over time, as the dental issues progress, the solutions are more evasive and often more expensive,” Coombs says. If a small cavity is ignored, it can grow into a larger cavity that requires a more invasive procedure to treat.
After missed appointments, a fear of taking off your mask in public (a necessary part of visiting the dentist), and a period when dental exams and cleanings were not considered an essential pandemic service in many places, dental neglect is fairly common across the country.
But, as Coombs points out, this problem existed prior to the pandemic; it’s just that there has been an increase recently.
One of the most common problems Coombs sees in his elderly patients is missing teeth, which can be caused by a variety of untreated issues.
Missing teeth are a bigger issue than you might think. The International Dental Implant Association estimates that nearly 40 million Americans are missing all of their top or bottom teeth.
According to Coombs, approximately 23 million people are missing all of their teeth completely, and approximately 178 million people are missing at least one tooth.
Meanwhile, according to MyDentist’s Great British Oral Health report, 73% of UK residents have one or more missing back teeth and 7.6% have one or more missing front teeth.
Coombs said, “If you are missing two teeth on the right side, you end up favouring the left side. So you have more breakdown on the left side of the mouth because that’s where you’re doing the chewing.”
This is a problem that predates the pandemic, but it has been exacerbated for some people due to long gaps between dentist visits. Inflation is also a factor: as Coombs points out, dentistry is expensive, and having a tooth extracted is often less expensive than other treatments.
For healthy teeth, go to the dentist every six months
Both Coombs and Lipari recommend that you visit the dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning.
Lipari notes that one schedule doesn’t necessarily fit all. “It really depends from patient to patient. [For] some people who may have gum and bone issues, it may be advisable for them to go see their dentist three to four times a year,” he said.
During those half-of-the-year visits, the best cadence for you will be determined. Also, if you have tooth sensitivity or pain, it’s probably a good idea to schedule an appointment.