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‘Covid Teeth:’ Dental association seeing impact of pandemic on people’s oral health

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    PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Teeth!

Who would have thought they could be so impacted by the pandemic, but the Pennsylvania Dental Association says they absolutely are.

Dr. John Pawlowicz who’s dad and brothers are all dentists says the pandemic impact has come in an interesting way.

“So many people are zooming, and they’re actually taking a look at their smiles, and they’re like, ‘oh my. I didn’t realize my teeth are getting discolored,’” he said.

For many, that means turning to self whitening products.

“In an attempt to get rid of stains or to try and brighten the enamel over time,” he explained.

Dr. Pawlowicz says putting an over-the-counter bleaching product on your teeth is often disappointing.

“What happens is when you do it at home, the different products that are out there just aren’t strong enough to break through a lot of the stain everyday stain that you and I would pick up over time,” he warns.

He says that leads to impatience and overuse.

“Some of those products, leach through the enamel and they get into the next layer of the tooth,” he explained. “It can affect the nerve of the tooth too and make things very sensitive for the patient.”

Dr. Pawlowicz says the chemicals in the products can also lead to gum discomfort.

Hydrogen Peroxide is the primary product used for bleaching your teeth whether in the dentist chair or in over-the-counter products, but those over-the-counter products are unpredictable in their effectiveness.

Dr. Pawlowicz says to shy away from whitening strips.

“They have other ingredients in them that break down into different byproducts,” he said. “I typically don’t like to recommend those.”

As for toothpaste that claims a whitening component Dr. Pawlowicz says, “sometimes the little grit, we call it silica, they’re little glass beads that help to go on there and polish the stain away so that’s where they’re getting away with saying it’s ‘whitening’ toothpaste, when in fact what you’re doing is you’re just kind of washing your teeth with a different type of product. These companies are really great with their marketing because they’ll market the whitening toothpaste, when in fact, you’re just doing a much better job of brushing and polishing your teeth, so I don’t think there’s much whitening effect other than keeping your teeth clean from the start.”

One of the Dental Association’s concerns is also that home whitening can mask real issues.

“I’ve had patients that have really tried to do a lot of home whitening and it turned out that the stain was there for a reason: it was actually decay,” he said.

As the one-year mark of the pandemic passes dentists are seeing people returning to their chairs with the results of the last year obvious.

“We call them COVID teeth,” he says. “You know a lot of excessive decay and infection that’s occurring, We’re seeing a lot of kind of gingivitis, where the gums are slightly inflamed because of the plaque buildup on the teeth that’s been occurring. Most people hate to floss, so they’re missing in between their teeth, and if they’re only brushing once or twice and they already had some pre-existing problems prior to the pandemic, we, what we’re seeing now is a lot more infection, and a lot more broken teeth.”

Dr. Pawlowicz says the repairs are more intense.

“We’re having to do a lot more tooth removal extractions, and a little bit more gum surgery than we’ve had to do in the past because of these gum infections and tooth infections,” he said.

In the midst of all of that, he says they are also addressing the growing number of questions about teeth whitening.

Dr. Pawlowicz recommends at least talking to your dentist before starting a whitening process at home.

He says many dentists have alternative products that provide the result but are safer.

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