Like many people isolating at home during the pandemic, Louise King Lanzilotti put her dental appointment last year on hold.
“I just wasn’t comfortable going out,” she says.
After getting a COVID-19 vaccine, Lanzilotti decided it was time to return to the dentist. At her appointment, she found out that she needed a deep cleaning procedure on her back molars from plaque buildup that’s normally removed during regular dental visits.
“I’m now playing catch-up with my dental care,” she says.
Lanzilotti is not alone. Dentists have been handling increased emergency procedures such as root canals and crown replacements for patients who put off routine dental appointments during the pandemic. They’re also treating patients with excessive plaque and tartar buildup that put them at risk for periodontal and gum disease.
“The detrimental effects of periodontal disease can happen within a few months and can destroy the bone and lead to tooth loss,” says George Kang, D.D.S., of Hawaii Family Dental in Kapolei.
An American Dental Association survey showed a 25% increase in cavities and gum disease among patients since the start of the pandemic. This could be the combined result of delayed appointments and changes in diets and hygiene as more people work and school from home. The pandemic has taken other serious and potentially long-lasting tolls on oral health. The survey showed an increase in stress-related conditions, including teeth grinding, cracked and chipped teeth, and jaw pain.
Many people view the mouth as separate from the rest of their body. But Dr. Kang says poor oral health can impact overall health. For example, periodontal disease has been linked to low or premature births. There’s also a link between gum disease and diabetes and smoking.
“The mouth is the gateway to rest of your health,” says Dr. Kang.
If you’re still putting off dental care, it’s important to call your dentist about any pain or other symptoms you may have. You can also ask your dentists about precautions they’re taking to keep appointments safe. Dental offices have been adding more time in between appointments, reducing the number of patients in waiting rooms, and are requiring temperature checks and hand sanitizing. They also pre-screen patients and ask if they feel sick, have traveled recently, or have been in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
“My patients’ concerns are also my concerns,” says Dr. Kang. “We’re taking steps far and beyond to minimize risks and keep them safe.”