Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a
tremendous focus on following guidelines to safeguard your health while also recognizing
the importance of not putting off routine care in order to maintain good
health. Total health is critically important. This includes
physical, mental AND dental health. Regular dental check-ups are
important now more than ever for many reasons.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the American Dental Association (ADA)
recommended that dental practices postpone elective dental procedures and
provide only emergency dental services, to help patients stay safe. Over the
course of the last several months, most dental practices have begun seeing
patients again for routine and elective procedures, while adhering to health
and safety protocols.
Why is oral health so important?
Keeping your mouth, teeth and gums healthy is an important part of keeping your
whole body healthy. Oral health can be a window into your overall health. Poor
oral health can affect the rest of your body.
Countless bacteria coexist in our bodies happily; however, sometimes these
bacteria can be harmful. In your mouth, they can lead to tooth decay, gum
disease and other oral infections. These same bacteria can also affect many
other parts of your body if not kept under control. Simple practices such as
brushing, flossing and limiting sugary and acidic foods - as well as regular dental
check ups - can help limit oral disease and reduce inflammation in other parts
of the body.
The link between oral health and disease
Oral bacteria can cause inflammation, which, if left untreated, can lead to
gingivitis and later periodontitis (gum disease). This inflammation has been
shown to have connections to certain conditions because it sets off a cascade
of inflammation in the body (systemic). This systemic inflammation is linked to
several diseases such as cardiovascular disease (heart disease, clogged
arteries and stroke), pregnancy complications (low birth weight babies,
premature birth), respiratory diseases (pneumonia) and diabetes. Further, new
emerging evidence is linking uncontrolled periodontal disease to an increase in
respiratory complications from COVID-19.
Conversely, having diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that
are not well controlled, can lead to inflammation and in turn worsened oral
health, especially gum disease. Also, diseases that cause a dry mouth
including Sjogren’s disease, ESRD (end stage renal disease), and GVHD (graft
versus host disease) can lead to an increased rate of cavities due to a
decrease in saliva. Many medications can cause a dry mouth as well including
asthma medications, some antidepressants, antihistamines and antipsychotics, to
name a few. People receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy have an
increased chance of developing oral disease because these procedures decrease
the body’s ability to fight infection and/or cause damage to salivary glands,
which in turn decreases saliva production.
You should always talk to your dentist about any medications that you take, as
well as changes in your overall health or if you have any chronic conditions,
such as diabetes. Studies have shown that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to
increased periodontal disease and uncontrolled periodontal disease makes it
more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels.
What you can do to protect your oral health
Brush twice a day with a soft or extra-soft brush (don’t use
a medium brush, which can damage your gums) with light pressure for at least
Use a fluoridated toothpaste.
Only have water after brushing at night.
Eat a healthy diet and limit foods high in sugar or acid.
Don’t smoke (besides being bad for your health, smoking also
speeds up periodontal disease.)
Schedule regular check-ups and cleanings.
Contact your dentist as soon as new oral health problems
arise, such as toothaches and bleeding gums.
Regular checkups and cleanings are often covered as part of basic dental
coverage. Many plans also cover these services as well as some nonsurgical
periodontal services. Make sure to check with your health plan to see what is
covered and to make sure that you are taking advantage of your dental benefits.
If you are currently a BCBSRI dental member but don’t have a dentist, you can
find one using our Find a Doctor tool at bcbsri.com/finddoctor.