Putting teeth into dental advisory: Poor oral health in pandemic costly

Dr. Roxanne Huber (left) and Dr. Stacy Tracy of Tempe Smile Design urge the public to keep up with oral health and dental exams during the COVID-19 pandemic.  –Tempe Smile Design photo

With the sobering reality that more than 400,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19, there’s no room for doubt that the impact on the nation’s health has been enormous. And while the ubiquitous face mask reminds us daily that we haven’t yet conquered the beast, two Tempe dentists want to remind you: Don’t forget about your teeth.

Dr. Stacy Tracy and Dr. Roxanne Huber of Tempe Smile Design say they have taken strong measures to protect their patients’ health while they are being seen for check-ups and dental work. The dentists noted that at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, people were told they shouldn’t go to the dentist for routine check-ups.

“The news was real quick to say, ‘Don’t go to the dentist,’ but they haven’t been real quick to say, ‘Hey, we were wrong,’” Tracy said.

Skipping check-ups could lead to real trouble, both dentists warn.

“Dental problems only get worse,” Huber said. “They never get better. If you wait too long, it could turn into an abscess which is painful. You could even lose teeth.”

Oral health impacts overall health. Poor oral health has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

To protect and reassure patients during the pandemic, Tempe Smile Design installed two medical-grade HEPA air filters in the office.

“One of the reasons people didn’t want to come in was because they were afraid of the aerosolization of the cough droplets,” Huber said.

All staff members at Tempe Smile Design have received COVID-19 vaccinations.

“You’re much safer here than you are at the grocery store,” Tracy said.

A notice on the front door of Tempe Smile Design states that anyone who enters must wear a mask. Temperature checks are given and patients are asked a series of questions about their health before they are seen. They’re also asked to take a pump of hand sanitizer that’s prominently placed on the front desk. Family and guests of the patient must wait outside to maintain social distancing.

“We disinfect the outdoor (door) handle and the indoor handle. We’re constantly wiping and spraying Lysol, trying to keep the air clean and the surfaces clean,” Huber said.

Even the pens are segregated into dirty and clean.

“Our sterilization procedure hasn’t changed because they were always at the highest,” Huber said. “But we’re more conscious of things that people are worried about and that we’re worried about. Everybody’s masked.”

Those pearly whites that make up your smile are inestimable, the dentists agree. And that isn’t often appreciated until they’re gone. That is why regular dental check-ups are crucial.

“People don’t realize how precious dental health is—just having all your teeth,” Tracy said.

Once you start losing teeth, a domino effect can be set in motion.

“’I can’t afford to take care of it so I’ll just have it pulled,’” Tracy said that some patients say. “But then it turns into another tooth and another tooth, and pretty soon they don’t have a whole side of their back teeth.”

The remaining teeth then have to do more work.

“They start breaking other teeth down,” Tracy said. “They have habits, they clench, they grind…they can only take so much. Unfortunately, people have to learn that lesson the hard way a lot of times.

“Then it’s major work.”

Just as the eyes are the window to the soul, your mouth is a window into your overall health, the dentists agree. They can help you protect it.

“Make sure you come to the dentist,” Huber said. “We’re always accepting new patients.”

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