Keeping Your Teeth Healthy During COVID-19

Father and son brushing teeth

Posted April 6, 2020 by UVM Medical Center

The efforts to contain and reduce the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus included dental offices closing their doors for all non-emergent dental procedures. This likely affected many of you and your families. We've received many interesting questions about preserving dental health. Let's take a look at answers to some of these questions.

How important is flossing? Is it safe to put our fingers in our mouth when we are being discouraged from touching our face?

To put it simply, flossing is VERY important. There are five surfaces to every tooth and when you only brush and don't floss, you're only cleaning three of those surfaces. It would be like showering and only washing your hair, torso, and back and leaving the rest untouched. Especially now, being as clean and healthy throughout our entire body is of utmost importance. That brings me to the second part of this question: Is it safe to put our fingers in our mouth to floss? Yes, but make sure to follow the usual safety/cleanliness recommendations. Wash your hands, thoroughly, first. Do not floss in public. Let's keep our germs to ourselves and only floss in the comfort of our own homes. 

How often should I change my toothbrush?

The general recommendation is to change your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to six months. If you do get sick, however, you should always change your toothbrush or toothbrush head after you've been sick and start with a fresh one.

How is dental health connected to overall health/immunity?

The mouth is the “gateway” to the rest of the body and has a huge connection to our overall health. Our body functions through many intricate systems of checks and balances. If our immune system is suppressed due to a sickness or health condition, then it's not working at full capacity in other areas. So, if we neglect our oral health, it could cause our immune system to give more attention to the dental issue allowing other illnesses the opportunity to arise elsewhere. Since our mouth and body is connected, the goal is to keep the bacterial load within normal to help maintain a healthy balance. Just as washing our hands keeps bacteria at bay, so does brushing and flossing. 

There are several different dental cleaning tools, like rubber tip stimulators and waterpiks. Should we use these in replacement or in addition to brushing and flossing while we wait to go back to our dentists?

Brushing and flossing are the most important, so at a bare minimum, those two acts will keep your teeth and gums in the best shape possible until your next dental appointment. Another good way to keep your mouth and body clean is to brush your tongue once a day. This can be done with a tongue scraper or just with your toothbrush. Waterpiks, rubber tip stimulators, and proxa-brushes are all wonderful tools to add to your preventive routine if you'd like, but unless your regular dental professionals have encouraged you to use these previously, they aren't usually necessary as long as you're brushing and flossing. 

Would using fluoride products or increasing my exposure to fluoride products be a good idea in the meantime?

YES. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that binds to our enamel and strengthens it to help prevent against future decay and sensitivity. The recommendation is to have two sources of exposure per day. Most have fluoride in their water supply and in their toothpastes. If you are on well water, it is less likely that fluoride is in your water source. I usually recommend that my patients brush with a fluoridated toothpaste (if you aren't sure, look for sodium fluoride in the ingredients list on your tube of toothpaste) twice a day and rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash once a day. 

Especially during these times of necessary postponed dental care, I would adopt and stick to a diligent homecare routine to give your mouth and body its best chance of health possible. To recap, at a minimum, your routine would look like this: brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss, use a fluoride mouthwash once a day, and brush your tongue daily.

Chelsea Wells is a registered dental hygienist for The University of Vermont Medical Center's Dental and Oral Health office.

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