From missed appointments to teeth grinding, pandemic affecting many people’s dental care

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors have said isolation and stress from the pandemic have taken a toll on our mental health, but new numbers show it appears to affect our oral health as well. 

The World Health Organization has told people to postpone routine dental cleanings during the pandemic because the work requires face-to-face exposure, which could increase the risk of spreading the virus. 

The American Dental Association pushed back against the World Health Organization with a statement it released in August.

“When the World Health Organization suggested that people pushed back their dental appointments, at first I was a little surprised, but I understood,” said Dr. John Gordon, who runs a practice in the Northland off 64th Street. “It is a fear that everybody had at that point and still do to a degree now, although we’re all sensing that that fear is lessening. We’re all wanting to get back to normal.”

With that desire for normalcy comes keeping an eye on routine dental care.

Gordon said he isn’t worried about contracting the virus because his office already had strict hygiene measures in place before the pandemic. Since then, they’ve only tightened them.

“Being in dentistry, the mouth and the saliva and the vapor and whatever, we can be at an increased risk,” Gordon said. “I never felt that way though because, again, we use the proper PPE and the face masks and the face shields and these types of things.”

Some dentists across the country have reported more tooth trauma: clinching, grinding, cracked teeth, and they believe it’s from pandemic-related anxiety. Gordon said he hasn’t seen a leap in those cases, but he does have a small sector of patients that requires more frequent cleaning care.

“We have seen people delay their cleanings. Their mouths have been a little bit more, I want to say, dirty and some of the buildup and whatever, we have seen some of that,” Gordon said.

“With them telling people not to get their teeth cleaned, there are people who definitely need it from an overall medical perspective. If their mouth has gum disease and gum infection in it, it can definitely affect the overall physical mental health of the patient.” Gordon added.

“We have some patients in our practice, they need to get their teeth cleaned every month. Those people were missing out. Then when we saw them three or four months down the road, there was a significant change in their mouth. That’s a small sector, but that’s important to those people, to be seen once a month. It really put them in kind of a quandary, ‘What do I do?’ and it scared people.”

Patient Tom Gaschich had a routine cleaning Wednesday. It was rescheduled from June, but it’s because it took that long to get back on the books.

“I had a cleaning scheduled in July, and something came up last minute and I couldn’t make it. And they said, ‘Well, first we can get you in is September.’ And I’m like, ‘September?’” Gaschich said.

Despite mask orders and hidden mouths, Gordon said a lot of patients are actually interested in new smiles. His practice has an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry.

“When we came back, we saw a huge, I mean, not just a little, but a huge [number of] patients wanting smile makeovers and advanced implant dental work done. That surprised us,” Gordon said.

“It’s been a pleasure because we’ve really had a lot of fun working with those people and making the changes that they’re looking for in changing their smiles but the number of cases coming forward was really a surprise. I think a lot of the people are saying, ‘You know, we’re tired of this. I’m going to do something for me.’”

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