Dr. Tien Jiang, instructor in Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, shares advice for dental patients in a recent interview during National Oral Health Month in June.
“June is one of the best months in Boston. The days are longer and warmer, and the beginning of summer excites us all. So, as you long for melty ice cream cones and juicy watermelon slices, there are practical ways to get your mouth in shape to enjoy a fun summer with delicious treats,” Jiang said. “Part of that involves preventative care, so you don’t end up with longer-term health concerns.”
What are the top three oral health concerns you are seeing right now?
Jiang: Tooth fractures, gum disease, and infected teeth. Firstly, tooth fractures are unpredictable. Early in the pandemic, stress presented itself in the form of clenching and griding which led to broken teeth. If you’re lucky, the fracture is small and causes no pain. If you’re unlucky, the fracture can expose your tooth nerve or bone and cause you tremendous pain or eventual tooth loss. Secondly, patients with gum disease need more frequent visits to the dentist and delays can quickly lead to bone and gum loss that cannot be easily replaced. And thirdly, teeth are becoming infected because of cavities that could have been prevented before they got to the nerve and caused an infection and pain. All three can lead to tooth loss.
Jiang: Unfortunately, the pandemic hasn’t spared us dental pain. As a daughter, teacher, and dentist, I’ve seen the pandemic affect oral health in various ways. As a daughter, I’ve seen how a delay in frequent deep cleanings has led to tooth loss for my mother. As a teacher, I’ve helped students care for people who have been so busy just surviving this unpredictable pandemic that now they need a lot of dental care that they can’t afford. As a dentist, I’ve cared for individuals in terrible tooth pain that led to sleepless nights. I’ve also helped many patients who have switched to liquid diets due to tooth or jaw pain that has caused them to lose or gain weight, affecting their health and quality of life.
How can regular dental hygiene visits help with your overall health?
Jiang: For many reasons (right and wrong), dental care can drop down on the to-do list until it’s an emergency. The problem is cavities or gum disease are often silent until they cause pain and occasionally life-threatening situations. Infections can lead to bacteria traveling and harming other areas in your body besides your mouth, such as your heart, lungs, and brain. The good news is that all of this is preventable with regular dental visits. While you may feel no pain or discomfort, it's important to schedule regular dental visits. A one-hour appointment could save you lost nights of sleep, difficulty eating and speaking, and out-of-pocket costs.