Playing Catch-Up

Some patients are returning to Virginia dental offices with a mouthful of problems.

Illustration by Sebastien Thibault

As patients have started coming back to his clinic, Virginia Commonwealth University dentist Dr. David Sarrett is seeing a variety of post-pandemic problems. Among them: “a lot more people with cracked or broken teeth,” he says. “It’s people who are grinding their teeth more as a result of stress and anxiety.”

Sarrett, VCU’s associate vice president of health sciences, oversaw the reopening of the university’s dental clinics following last year’s shutdown. While VCU’s clinics are back to 500 to 600 visits a day, many patients are arriving with more issues from having missed routine exams and cleanings. “We’re seeing people who have bigger cavities and a lot more gum inflammation and loose teeth than usual,” he says. “The two primary problems that dentists see are periodontal, or gum, disease and dental caries.”

Periodontal disease is a gum infection that can cause swollen gums that bleed easily, loose teeth, gum recession, and even tooth loss. Dental caries, also known as cavities, may require fillings, crowns, root canals, or extractions to fix. “For patients at low risk for tooth decay and gum dis- ease, missing one cleaning or so is not likely a huge issue,” he says. But those at high risk for periodontal issues or cavities may require extra visits upon their return.

Missed dental visits have also meant missed opportunities for oral cancer screenings. “There have been reports of some patients whose precancerous condition was not caught as early as possible, because of missed checkups, and it has progressed,” he says.

Sarrett recommends that patients schedule their catch-up visits as soon as possible. For those still hesitant to schedule a visit, Sarrett notes that the CDC, WHO, and others have so far not reported any cases of COVID transmission linked to a dental practice—no doubt because of enhanced screening, sanitizing, and protective protocols. “You’re probably a lot safer coming into a dental office for care than going to a grocery or home improvement store. … The last time I went into one of these stores, nobody stopped me to take my temperature or test that I wasn’t sick.” VCUDental.com


This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.

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