Letting your kids skip a shower or allowing them to wear the same clothes two or more days straight are hygiene practices that usually get a pass with many parents, especially as we all navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One area parents shouldn’t overlook, however, is their children’s oral health.
Catching and correcting problems early
Dr. Harvey Levy of Dr. Harvey Levy & Associates P.C. notes that, in his 46 years of practice, he has never seen his patients’ mouths in worse shape. “People have delayed cleanings for up to half a year, so when they come in, it has basically been a year since their last visit,” he says. “In one year a lot can happen. … (Recently,) I did several root canals on children because they did not come in for elective care half a year ago when it would have been just simple fillings. We like to catch things early, and if they (patients) delay it for whatever good reason, they are no longer simple fillings. Now they are emergency root canals, crowns and extractions.”
Using an apple as an example, Levy observes a small bruise can be easily cut out. But the longer you wait, the bruise can get deeper and if it reaches the core, the apple is now rotten.
Levy believes dental health has taken a nose dive during the pandemic because children are at home more now with schools going virtual and many activities canceled. Many children are snacking throughout the day because food is available. With a steady stream of food, bacteria in the mouth grows, which causes plaque and calculus that can lead to cavities and gum disease.
“Think of a fire—the more you feed the fire, the fire grows,” he says. “If you don’t feed the fire, the fire won’t grow. … If you feed the cavities, the cavities will grow.”
Dr. Michael Virts of Mt. Airy Children’s Dental Associates has seen children’s anxiety surrounding dental treatments increase since the pandemic began. “We are finding we are doing a lot more to help with making the kids feel more comfortable than we normally do,” he says.
The practice is also seeing an uptick in cavities. “We are seeing an increase in snacking throughout the day and that seems to be across the board, from preschoolers all the way up through high-school kids,” he says. “We are seeing kids off their routines and are not necessarily brushing and flossing as they normally would because they don’t have school to go to in the morning or come home from in the evening.”
Virts believes routine dental care is important. If issues are left untreated, cavities may grow to the size where the issue causes the child to become sick, which may necessitate further care beyond the dental setting. The biannual visits also keep kids comfortable with coming into the dentist’s office.
Keeping patients safe during their dental visits
Area dentists’ offices have implemented many safety measures to ensure their patients are safe. “If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended it, we have gone above and beyond to address it,” Virts says.
Staff are wearing masks, face shields, safety glasses, multiple gloves and gowns. Rooms are thoroughly cleaned before examining patients and appointments are staggered to limit interaction.
Patients must wash their hands multiple times as well as answer prescreening questions before they arrive and submit to temperature checks.
Many offices have also gone paperless with forms going online and contactless payment options.
“In medicine, the adage is ‘above all, do no harm.’ We are determined to treat (patients’) problems, both electively and in an emergency, and not cause any harm,” Levy says.
Practicing healthy oral hygiene at home
Area dentists say children need to brush twice a day and floss at least once a day. They also need to have fluoride, usually found in water, in their diet. If your home relies on a well as its water source, kids should take a fluoride supplement in a liquid form or chewable tablet. Children also need to reduce their sugar intake. Levy says, “Every dose of sugar is 20 seconds of acid production. The more acid production, the more it destroys the teeth.”
With kids snacking more at home between meals, Virts believes foods that are not healthy should not be purchased. “Parents are in charge of what goes on the grocery lists,” he says, “not the child. Parents need to be parents. Parents should not allow frequent snacking on carbohydrates between meals. Parents should offer their child plain water between meals to drink and plain milk with meals … simple things like that will really make a huge difference.”
Get your little ones in the habit of brushing their teeth
Download our tooth-brushing chart for your child.