Chances are no one needs to tell you about how significantly the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the routines of everyday Americans. All kinds of businesses and other organizations have been forced—either directly or indirectly—to close. And over the course of the last few months, many of these establishments have been allowed to reopen, albeit at a limited capacity.
As such, millions of people across the country have been trying to adjust to a new normal that seems to change by the day. But one thing is for sure: Even if there are a lot of things in our lives that we can’t control right now, we can still take steps to foster our health and well-being. And maintaining good dental health can go a long way in helping us achieve that.
The good news is that dental offices across the country are now seeing patients for routine checkups and other non-emergency treatments. And while the pandemic is still in full swing, dental offices are among the safest places to be. Nonetheless, you’re not alone if you have lingering concerns about whether or not you should visit the dentist with everything going on.
So, what do you do if you’re past due on a checkup and want to take care of your teeth and gums the best you can right now? Below, we’ll discuss these matters in more detail so that you can decide for yourself if scheduling an appointment is right for you.
HOW LONG CAN YOU ACTUALLY WAIT BEFORE VISITING THE DENTIST?
OK, maybe you’re not completely convinced that you need to go to the dentist quite as often as you have been told. Let’s talk about why regular checkups are generally recommended, as well as the absolute longest you should wait before seeing a dentist:
Why Regular Checkups Are Important
Regular checkups at the dentist are essential for maintaining good dental health. It is generally recommended that adults visit the dentist every six months. Following this logic, if you haven’t had a checkup since the pandemic started, then it’s time to book an appointment. However, going to the dentist twice a year may not always seem practical to some adults. After all, what if there happens to be a global pandemic that turns the routines of countless households on their heads?
With this in mind, it’s important to consider why regular checkups and treatments are recommended by medical professionals. For one, your dental health is closely connected to other aspects of your physical health, so neglecting it for too long can have severe consequences and end up costing you much more money than if you were to go to a few dental visits. Also, neglecting your dental health can significantly impact your mental health and overall well-being.
Then there’s the fact that checkups allow your dentist to perform a thorough examination of your mouth, which in turn allows them to catch any current or potential problems. The more often you visit the dentist, the earlier such problems can be found, which means that you can address them before they become too advanced. Keeping tabs on your health like this can bring peace of mind and potentially save you from unnecessary (and expensive) procedures.
If You’re Typically in Good Health
You’re pretty good about practicing daily dental care. You brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and are conscious of eating a well-balanced diet. The dentist rarely finds issues when examining your teeth at checkups. In this case, it’s understandable that you would be a little skeptical of scheduling appointments every six months, especially in light of everything going in 2020.
Here’s the thing: The six-month checkup standard is widely accepted by medical professionals. But if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of going to the dentist during the pandemic, and you are OK with the risk of not having a dentist catch potential problems, then it might be fine to skip your next appointment. Studies by organizations like the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) indicate that a maximum of two years between visits can suffice if the patient is thoroughly practicing oral care at home. For children, the maximum is one year, since they are more susceptible to tooth decay. Teens should go no longer than 18 months.
It’s important to note that there is no guarantee that dental issues will not arise over a two-year period (or even six months, for that matter), regardless of the general oral health of a patient. And one should only go that long without seeing a dentist if there is no other feasible option.
The study mentioned above does not apply to patients who are concerned that they may have tooth decay or a cavity. Tooth decay can erode the tooth quickly, resulting in a cavity, which is basically a hole in the tooth. Children’s teeth are softer and at higher risk for cavities, but adults get them often as well.
If you have not been brushing, flossing, and eating a generally tooth-friendly diet, then chances are that you have an unhealthy amount of plaque on the enamel of your teeth, which will inevitably lead to tooth decay if left untreated. Examine your teeth on a regular basis. And if you notice a pale or dark spot on any of your teeth, or if you notice discoloration on any of your teeth (typically yellow, brown, or black), then you likely have a cavity. Even so, cavities can lurk in unseen crevices and corners of the mouth, which is another reason why six-month checkups are so heavily recommended.
If you suspect either tooth decay or a cavity, you will definitely want to contact your dentist as soon as possible. Visiting the dentist will help to stop the tooth decay or cavity before it gets worse, and that can save you from a lot of unnecessary pain, not to mention expensive procedures.
THE PANDEMIC AND THE CURRENT STATE OF DENTAL OFFICES
When the pandemic first reached the U.S, dental offices across the country closed their doors. In most places, facilities remained closed for months, with the exception of performing emergency dental treatment and procedures.
Now, facilities are opening back up everywhere, seeing patients for routine checkups and other types of non-emergency care.
As of date, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) still hold that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 transmitted in a dental facility. This is a fact that cannot be ignored and that attests to the stringent cleaning and sanitation processes implemented by dental offices throughout the country (and world)—both before and during the pandemic. In other words, dental offices are among the safest places you can go right now.
Even though most dental offices, including South Charlotte Family Dentistry, were very thorough in their cleaning and sanitation guidelines prior to the pandemic, changes have been made in an effort to curb the general spread of the coronavirus. Also, constant evaluations and adjustments are being made in order to ensure that patients and staff are safe.
Before an appointment, for instance, you might be asked to check-in through a mobile app rather than the traditional way of filling out paperwork. You will likely be asked if you have had any potential exposure to the virus and whether you have traveled recently, and you will be reminded to wear a mask. Once you get to the appointment, a staff member will check your temperature. And be prepared to use hand sanitizer, which there should be plenty of in each room.
Also, you can expect the waiting room experience to be quite different at the dental office than it has in the past. Many offices are trying to limit their waiting rooms to just a few people, and some are trying to keep no patients in the waiting room by asking patients to stay in their vehicle until the dentist or oral hygienist is ready to see them.
IF YOU’RE STILL UNCOMFORTABLE VISITING THE DENTAL OFFICE
In light of everything discussed here, if you are still uneasy about visiting your dental office, then it’s essential that you do everything you can at home to maintain your dental health.
Basic Dental Care
Before and after brushing or flossing, be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and floss once a day to reach the bacteria and plaque that your brush can’t.
When it comes to your diet, it’s best to limit sugary foods like candy, cakes, and cookies. Sticky candy like gummy bears and sour gummies are particularly harmful to your teeth. Also, try not to snack too frequently throughout the day, as it can increase your risk of tooth decay and cavities. And limit the sugary drinks in your daily routine because they can be just as harmful as sugary foods. Instead, drink a lot of water during and between meals.
If you suspect a dental emergency, it’s important to contact your dentist as soon as possible for guidance. However, for certain dental issues, there are things you can do at home that can possibly mitigate the issue, albeit temporarily:
General dental pain. Over-the-counter medicines can help with dental pain. But the thing to look out for is how long the pain lasts and whether or not there is swelling. If there is no swelling, a simple combination of Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can relieve some of the pain, but you will need to ask your dentist about the proper dosage. If there is swelling in your mouth, you will need to take the same medicines as well as rinse your mouth with warm saltwater. Contact your dentist if there is swelling or if the pain persists.
Pain in gums, tongue, cheek, and/or lip. Common medicated gels that you can get over the counter, such as Orajel and Anbesol, can serve as a temporary remedy for any of these soft tissue places in the mouth (as long as there isn’t swelling). If it’s a child who is experiencing the pain, be sure to look for a children’s oral gel. Additionally, you can administer children’s Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen to add relief, though you will want to consult the dentist or pediatric dentist for guidance.
Fractured tooth or lost filling. If you have suffered a fractured tooth or have lost a filling, you can use an over-the-counter filling material as a temporary fix, which can typically be found in the dental aisle of the pharmacy. If you would rather not leave the house, you should be able to find filling/loose cap repair products online and have them delivered straight to your doorstep.
Damaged dentures. Whether your dentures have been broken or they simply don’t fit well anymore, there are temporary fixes for that as well. Most pharmacies sell denture repair kits and denture reline kits, which you can also find online.
Going to the dentist every six months is the best way to stay on top of your dental health, and it can potentially save you from severe pain and expensive medical bills. Also, dental offices are considered by experts around the world to be some of the cleanest and safest facilities you can go to right now. Nonetheless, if you still need some time to warm up to the idea of going to the dentist, be sure to diligently practice dental care at home, and contact your dentist if you notice any issues.