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‘It’s a serious issue’: A mouthful of factors are leading to 'COVID cavities'

Cavities are on the rise during the pandemic, but why? And how can you prevent them? A dental hygienist educating the public on YouTube weighs in.

PORTLAND, Ore. — When was the last time you went to the dentist? If it has been more than a year, you’re not alone, but it could be causing bigger problems down the road. 

About 68% of Oregonians have delayed dental checkups due to coronavirus fears, to a survey by Next Smile Dental

However, delayed checkups and cleanings are just one factor when it comes to what is being called “COVID cavities.” 

Oral health is much more than a bright smile and fresh breath. Just ask Dental Hygienist Whitney DiFoggio.

“Because it could be related to more than just your mouth. It could be related to your body,” DiFoggio said. 

DiFoggio, also known as the Teeth Talk Girl on YouTube, has gained thousands of followers for her fun and educational videos on oral health. 

Like many things over the past year, dental care has taken a backseat and that is leading to a rise in cavities. 

“It’s a serious issue,” she said.  There are a mouthful of factors leading to the rise in cavities during the pandemic, according to DiFoggio. 

“Missing dental appointments, not staying consistent with dental health care, and eating foods that are bad for your teeth have all kind of contributed to this rise in COVID cavities and a decline in dental health,” she said. 

Let’s break that down. First missing dental appointments. Dental clinics were closed early on in the pandemic and even when they opened many were wary about rescheduling. 

“We still have patients trying to get back on their routine cleaning,” DiFoggio.

Next, a lack of routine is leading to a lack of home care. 

 “A lot of people are completely skipping their daily brushing and flossing, again, loss of routine and less of a priority for people who are only seeing their coworkers on Zoom,” she said. “They’re not as worried about how their breath might smell or what their teeth really look like.” 

Then, of course, there’s the stress which lends itself to other unhealthy habits.

“So, more sugar, more alcohol, snacking,” DiFoggio said. “Snacking is the absolute worst for your teeth and unfortunately snacking is extra easy when your kitchen is right across from your home office.” 

You may have heard theories about masks making us mouth breathers and that leading to cavities. 

Mouth-breathing can cause dry mouth which can lead to cavities and other dental problems, but DiFoggio says it is not necessarily the mask causing it. 

“It’s not necessarily that the masks are causing mouth breathing, for most people, but that the masks are actually helping patients notice dental issues that have always been there.” 

She says her own patients are noticing their dental problems more because of masks. 

“The masks are literally putting the dental problems right in our face,” DiFoggio said. 

So, what can you do to get proactive and prevent COVID cavities?

“Sometimes you will know if you’re a mouth breather. If you constantly have dry mouth, that’s a tall tale sign, but oftentimes you won’t know,” DiFoggio said. “So, visiting your dental provider is the best thing you can do to kind of figure out why you might be mouth breathing and if anything they will refer you to a physician or ENT (ear, nose, throat specialist) if it’s a severe situation.” 

First things first, get into the dentist’s office and back to routine exams and cleanings. 

Number two: homecare. 

“You need to step up your homecare game. Get back on that daily brushing and flossing. Brush at least twice a day and clean in between your teeth at least once a day,” DiFoggio said. 

Finally, number three: try to eat healthier to cut the sugar and limit snacking. 

“You don’t want sugar or carbs, or any food debris for that matter, but specifically sugar and carbs sitting on your teeth for a prolonged period of time.”   

DiFoggio knows that is easier said than done. If you are a grazer and snack throughout the day, make sure to drink lots of water. It’s a simple and effective way to combat the food from sticking to your teeth.