Dentists seeing increased stress and anxiety in patients' teeth during COVID lockdowns

Dr Carmelo Bonanno says dental infection-control practices are impeccable because
Dr Carmelo Bonanno says dental infection-control practices are impeccable because "they have to be". Picture: Karleen Minney

Peering into peoples' mouths for much of their working day, dentists are as acutely aware of the knock-on physical effects of the COVID pandemic as other medical practitioners - and what they're seeing lately is of concern.

An increase in stress and anxiety-related ailments is appearing more often, as well as decline in oral health due to changes in diet and lifestyle.

Cracked teeth, tooth sensitivity and pain associated with the clenching and grinding of teeth, known as bruxism, have become more common as pandemic-related stresses manifest in the form of dental issues.

People in lockdown are also brushing their teeth less frequently, according to a report in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, which also found a 71 per cent jump in halitosis (bad breath). Mask-wearing, too, had made people less sensitive to so-called "smile aesthetics".

The decrease in toothbrushing frequency was revealed in the journal's survey of 1346 people.

It's not just the patients but the practitioners, too, who are feeling the stresses of the pandemic. Listening to the stories from people coming into his Woden surgery, dentist Dr Carmelo Bonanno can empathise with patient uncertainties that are emerging in their teeth.

Dr Bonanno in his Woden surgery. Picture: Karleen Minney

Dr Bonanno in his Woden surgery. Picture: Karleen Minney

But he's also keen to emphasise that whatever anxiety people have about visiting the dentist - whether it's COVID-related or just simple dental-treatment aversion - it's important not to neglect your teeth, for the sake of your general health and wellbeing.

"It's well established that there are a number of medical issues which can be avoided through maintaining better oral health," he said.

"And there are links to other areas, too, such as diet. We're really trying to encourage people to have good eating and exercise regimes."

A former president of the Australian Dental Association, Dr Bonanno said he was aware of the trepidation in the community about the Delta strain of COVID and its rapid rate of infection.

"The reassurance we can offer is that dentists' infection-control practices and standards are impeccable; they have to be," he said.

Damian Mitsch, the association's chief executive officer, said that like any small business owners, dentists have also felt the economic effects of COVID.

"The vast majority of dentists are either small business people or they work in small businesses," he said.

"Just like other small businesses, times have been very tough with uncertainty and lockdowns. Many dentists have seen the equity in their business erode as they've taken on more debt to keep the doors open and their staff employed.

"They have gone from fully booked and starting to recover to calling all their patients to cancel or postpone at a moment's notice on word of an outbreak.

"We've had messages ranging from despair from people who don't think their business will make it through to dentists taking out big loans to support their team while not having income."

This story Clenching and grinding: how lockdown-related anxiety affects your teeth first appeared on The Canberra Times.