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Dentists seeing ‘mask mouth’ and stress-related issues during COVID-19 pandemic

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Health Matters March 25: Dentists are seeing an increase in some dental issues during the pandemic, including "mask mouth." Plus, the Edmonton-made Entos Pharmaceuticals COVID-19 vaccine officially has the green light for clinical trials. Su-Ling Goh reports. – Mar 25, 2021

Dr. Elena Hernandez-Kucey says it’s a something dentists across North America have been talking about: a noticeable increase in stress-related dental issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are seeing more joint problems, people arriving (in clinics) saying: ‘I’m not sleeping well, I’m waking up, my face hurts,'” Hernandez-Kucey told Global News.

Read more: Alberta ergonomist says extended work-from-home setups causing increase in back pain, eye strain

The Edmonton dentist explains tension and anxiety, whether a patient is aware of it or not, can cause teeth grinding and clenching.

“If that tooth perhaps had a weak part… now we’ve put a lot of stress and bending forces.

“That might cause a fracture or complication to the nerve health of the tooth,” said Hernandez-Kucey.

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Staff of the University of Alberta dental clinic have been seeing similar problems over the past year.

They’re also noticing “mask mouth.”

“Some people when they wear masks, they tend to breathe through their mouth. So this can cause dryness in the mouth,” Dr. Liran Levin told Global News.

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Read more: The COVID crunch: Winnipeg dentist says teeth-grinding a sign of pandemic stress

The head of the U of A’s periodontology division explains dryness can enhance gum diseases or encourage inflammation.

“Make sure you’re brushing or cleaning your teeth even more than on a regular basis because this dryness can help the bacteria… create the inflammation,” said Levin.

He also recommends drinking more water and trying to breathe through your nose while you’re wearing a mask.

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Hernandez-Kucey says mask-wearing has some benefits.

If you smell your own bad breath — or halitosis — that can be a sign of potential infection, something you might not have noticed otherwise until it’s more advanced.

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Read more: What stress is doing to your oral health

Patients are also taking advantage of this time when everyone’s faces are covered to hide major dental work.

“Perhaps someone might be a little bit nervous about having braces for example… or losing a front tooth… or losing all their teeth and perhaps going to a denture,” said Hernandez-Kucey.

“It’s perfect because when we have a mask on, the mask… hides some of the process.”

Both dental professionals say patients who are nervous to leave the house have been putting off appointments.

Read more: Don’t skip your check-up: Manitoba Dental Association assures appointments are safe amidst pandemic

“Maybe delaying what would have been an easy minor adjustment or small filling, small restoration, to now (becoming) something a lot more significant,” said Hernandez-Kucey.

Now is not to time to neglect oral health.

A recently published study from Qatar found patients with periodontitis, the most severe form of gum disease, were at least three times more likely to experience COVID-19 complications, including the need for assisted ventilation, ICU admission and death.

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