Health: Caring for your teeth during lockdown
Oral hygiene is extra important right now, as two dentists tell Lisa Salmon.
Taking good care of our oral health is always important, but the pandemic means it’s an even bigger priority.
Nipping to the dentist for a routine check-up might be trickier than usual. Plus, oral hygiene may play a part in avoiding the spread of infection if somebody in your household does become unwell.
“If your household is affected by coronavirus, it’s really important to prevent the spread and one way to do this is by being extra-careful with your oral hygiene kit,” says dentist Dr Andrea Ubhi (andreaubhi.com).
So, what do the experts advise? Here’s what they want you to know…
Don’t share oral hygiene products
You probably don’t share toothbrushes anyway – and that’s especially important now. “This is advice during the pandemic and a habit to keep forever. Toothbrushes and even tubes of toothpaste can be a breeding ground for germs and microscopic pathogens,” says Ubhi.
She suggests getting a new brush if any member of the household is/has been unwell and may have had Covid-19, and sterilising your toothbrush head daily. It’s also a good idea, says Ubhi, for everyone in the house to have their own toothbrush holder and tube of toothpaste (shared holders can be a breeding ground for germs, and sharing tubes means multiple toothbrushes come into contact with the paste). Clean the toothpaste and brush storage area daily and provide separate glasses to use mouthwash, or give each person their own bottle.
So how do you sterilise your toothbrush and brush heads? Ubhi says baby sterilising tablets or liquid are ideal to use to sterilise toothbrushes – and toothbrush heads, retainers, gum shields and whitening trays – which should all be sterilised daily. “They need to be bacteria-free before they enter your mouth,” she says.
Brush up your routine
Because dental help isn’t as easily available during lockdown, Ubhi says taking extra care to look after your oral health should be a priority – and “brushing your teeth twice a day is simply not enough.”
She suggests following the four-step-smile routine: flossing, interdental brushing, brushing (ideally with an electric toothbrush) and using mouthwash. “Never rinse your mouth with water after brushing, as this washes away the protective properties of the fluoride in toothpaste,” she explains. Instead, use a mouthwash before brushing or wait at least 30 minutes afterwards.
Prevention is better than cure
You might want to take extra care to avoid dental emergencies too. “Accidents where crowns have broken, teeth have chipped or veneers have fallen off often happen when patients eat foods that are challenging to chew,” says Ubhi. “Avoiding those foods is important, as without access to a dentist you could be left in pain and in some cases with parts of your tooth nerves exposed, which can be excruciating.”
Foods known to fracture teeth include hard boiled sweets, toffees, and fruits with hard stones that can be accidentally bitten into, such as cherries or dates.
Treating aches at home
If you have persistent toothache, an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol can help (always make sure you follow the dosage on the packet and ask a pharmacist for advice if you need to). If pain persists, seek telephone advice from your dental practice. “While we’re unable to see and treat patients during lockdown, most clinics have support on the end of the phone,” says Ubhi.
Dentist Neil Banton, head of clinical services at Bupa Dental Care (bupa.co.uk/dental/dental-care), says people with toothache can also use an anaesthetic gel, which is available from most pharmacies. It’s also a good idea to reduce sugary or acidic foods, especially sweets or fizzy drinks (even diet ones), as these can aggravate pain and sensitivity.
Banton adds: “It’s important to avoid extremes of temperature, such as hot drinks and very cold foods. Keeping your head elevated at night can also help, as lying down increases blood pressure in the tooth, causing pain.
“Other tips include applying a cool pack or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to your cheek, to keep the area cold. But don’t be tempted to apply anything directly to the tooth as this can increase pain and damage the tissues. You can, however, use cotton wool to place clove oil over the painful tooth or area of the mouth.”
Wisdom tooth pain
Banton says rinsing your mouth with warm salt water as often as possible is good for disinfecting the wisdom tooth area, and using a mouthwash suitable for gum problems can also help. “Keep the area cold by using a cool pack or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel, and continue to clean your wisdom teeth thoroughly, even if it’s painful to do so,” he advises.
Emergency crown kit
Ubhi says if you dislodge a crown you can buy a special emergency dental kit from the pharmacy, which includes dental glue to re-attach. “However, I would advise calling your dental practice for advice before using,” she advises.
Sharp pain when biting
Sharp pain when biting could be a result of tooth decay, a loose filling or a crack in your tooth, explains Banton. It could also mean there’s damage to the pulp tissue inside the mouth, which could require treatment such as root canal. Until you can get treatment, avoid eating hard food like nuts or sweets, and those which need a lot of chewing, like baguettes or tough meats. Also, try to use the other side of your mouth for chewing when possible.
If you have any facial swelling, contact your dentist, says Banton. Do this urgently if the swelling extends to the eye area, along your mouth, or down your neck, and if your vision or breathing has been affected, you’re having trouble swallowing or you can’t open your mouth more than two fingers wide, visit A&E immediately. If the swelling is minor, your dentist may be able to prescribe antibiotics over the phone. You can also use a cold compress, or try rinsing your mouth with warm salt water repeatedly until the swelling reduces.
If you have a dental emergency your dental practice should have a helpline, and for further help call NHS 111.