Dental Anxiety & COVID-19: How to Safely Visit the Dentist

It’s no surprise that 36% of the general population struggles with dental anxiety. Additionally, more than one in every three Americans says that COVID-19 is affecting their mental health. Concerns about dental visits are running understandably high.

However, your teeth and overall well-being still need care. Dentistry isn’t just about having a beautiful smile — it’s part of supporting your overall health.

Here’s how the pandemic affects dentists and patients, whether you should stay home, and how to combat dental anxiety during this trying time.

Should you skip dental appointments until COVID-19 has passed?

In 2014, the American Dental Association (ADA) found that ⅕ of Americans hadn’t visited the dentist in the last few years. Unfortunately, the pandemic may be a convenient excuse to continue that trend.

Here’s why you shouldn’t avoid dental treatment, even in a pandemic:

  • Your oral health affects your overall wellness. Skipping dental appointments can actually put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Your immune system needs to stay strong right now, and part of ensuring good health is visiting a dental office.
  • Mask mouth is very real. This emerging oral issue can not only sour your breath, but can also dry out delicate oral tissue and create a high risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Without regular care, tooth decay can accelerate. If you want to avoid more extensive procedures like crowns and root canals, you’ll need your regular cleanings and exams to catch plaque and decay early. Skipping the dentist can also lead to more pathogenic bacteria in your oral microbiome.
  • Dental practitioners are doctors, and they’re taking massive precautions. The dental community has an educated, thoughtful response to keeping you well and keeping your teeth healthy. Remember, we do this every day.
  • Some stress responses can be bad for teeth. Bruxism, or grinding your teeth, can be a stress response that severely damages your mouth.

Many patients are asking: What can I do to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic? You can cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking great care of your health, including regular dental checkups.

Don’t take a health risk by skipping the dentist — your teeth and well-being will thank you.

How has COVID-19 affected patients’ dental anxiety?

The current public health crisis can compound cases of dental anxiety. Here’s how it affects the demographics of kids and adults.

In children, a small sample size study found that young boys, in particular, were more likely to experience heightened anxiety around dental treatment during the pandemic. Family members and caregivers were more anxious about the children’s treatment as well.

Adults may feel even more anxious than children. In one online survey conducted since the COVID-19 outbreak, 45% of respondents reported having dental health problems during the pandemic, potentially because of a lack of dental care.

It’s not just patients — it’s dentists, too.

For dental professionals, it’s no walk in the park treating teeth while taking precautions against infectious disease. In fact, dentists and dental hygienists have the highest rate of exposure to the virus among all healthcare workers since the mouth is a key source of coronavirus transmission.

In a statistical analysis, one questionnaire found that roughly 32% of dental healthcare workers were experiencing a moderate to severe level of anxiety during the pandemic due to this strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Another survey discovered that 90% of dentists that responded were concerned about contracting COVID-19 from a patient showing suspicious symptoms.

Remember: Your dentist is likely taking this even more seriously than you are. The measures in place are designed to protect both of you while making sure your mouth stays healthy. Strict cleaning and disinfecting measures are in place at dental clinics to keep you safe.

5 Ways to Combat Dental Anxiety During a Pandemic

While you may still feel nervous when heading to the dental clinic, there are ways you can decrease your dental anxiety.

Here are 5 recommendations to keep calm when prepping for a dentist visit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Communicate with Your Dentist

If you’re feeling anxious and scared about COVID-19, you can feel better by communicating clearly with your dentist and asking questions. The more informed you are, the better you’ll feel.

You’ll talk about any recent exposure, travel history, and underlying conditions so that they can determine the best way and timeline in which to treat you. You’ll also want to ask any questions you may have about safety and procedure and mention if it’s a dental emergency.

What types of dental procedures are considered an emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic? Dental procedures considered an emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic typically include infections and abscesses, pain and swelling, tooth extractions, and denture adjustments for sore spots.

2. Keep Up Oral Hygiene at Home

The mantra of this outbreak has been “stay home,” and you might as well use some of that time to get your mouth in the best shape ever.

Brushing twice and flossing once daily are first up, but now might be a great time to try some other new holistic measures.

Consider switching to a prebiotic, gum-friendly toothpaste like Revitin or incorporating oral probiotics to take your home hygiene to the next level and combat the symptoms of mask mouth. Knowing you are taking great care of your teeth is one less cause for concern.

3. Respect the Dentist’s Requests

Decrease your level of anxiety by respecting the requests of your dentist.

Don’t fuss about your mask if you aren’t used to wearing one — it’s for your protection. Don’t complain about the additional personal protective equipment (PPE) your dentist will be wearing at your appointment.

Even more importantly, don’t ignore even minor signs of COVID, even if you think they’re allergies. 

You’ll have more anxiety from trying to cover coughs and sniffles than you will from rescheduling.

4. Follow CDC Guidelines

Should I wear a mask to the dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic? You should wear a mask to the dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can increase your protection by following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Wear a mask in public
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
  • Try not to touch your face
  • Avoid large crowds or circumstances that don’t allow for social distancing

By implementing these measures, you have fewer reasons to be anxious about the potential risk.

5. Choose A Great Dentist

A recent survey of dentists found that the more qualifications a dentist had, the more aware they were of best practices around the coronavirus. Similar research found that experience can also play a role in reducing anxiety levels in dentists.

Learn about your dentist before scheduling, and choose a biological dentist if you’re looking for whole-body health and disease prevention in the age of the novel coronavirus. Having confidence in your dentist may help reduce your anxiety.

Tips for Dentists

Oral healthcare professionals, we thank you for what you’re doing. Here are some tips to help you have some peace of mind, too.

  • Stay off social media as much as possible. Surveys are finding that dentists’ anxiety rises in correlation with social media use. The CDC and World Health Organization are better sources for the need-to-know details.
  • Use caution with aerosols. Aerosolized treatments can heighten the risk of transmitting the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
  • Take care. Health care providers are all under tremendous strain right now. Please care for yourself with the same excellence you’re caring for others: stay active, connect with loved ones safely, and be as mindful as possible while under stress.
  • Practice patience. Remember that patients may be more on edge due to these extraordinary circumstances, and try not to take tension personally.

Schedule Your Dental Appointment Today

If you’ve been putting off your dental appointment due to pandemic stress, dental anxiety, or both, this is your sign. Located in East Hampton and Manhattan, our team has years of experience in treating patients with anxiety. Schedule your visit today.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.