WVU dentist recommends being vigilant about children’s dental health during pandemic

Monongalia
Child receiving a dental screening

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to abandon their routines, including some that are health-related, leaving many professionals concerned.

Gina Graziani, chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the WVU School of Dentistry, said one of the routines people have abandoned is taking their children for dental visits, which has had a big impact.

“I think it’s really had a large and profound effect that we will continue to feel as the pandemic goes on and for a time after, before we have a vaccine,” Graziani said. “It’s had a lot of implications in a lot of different parts of life, so I think it’s had a great impact on that.”

With many, if not most, dental practices closed because of COVID-19, it is understandable that many have forgone their habit of keeping track of their kids’ oral health. However, it’s important to reinforce best practices, Graziani said.

Number one, diet and hygiene are the most important things in day to day behavior that can prevent different types of oral diseases in kids. As far as a diet is concerned, Graziani said, it’s important to minimize snacking between the three meals of the day and to remember to drink lots of water and not sugary drinks.

Another important best practice worthy of reinforcing is brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Beyond that, Graziani said, it’s important to see the dentists every six months or sooner if there are any issues before they lead to dental cavities or different types of gum diseases.

Graziani

If a child has a cavity, the cavity grows really fast in baby teeth, and if it grows really fast, that means it’s going to start to hurt them sooner rather than later. And then once it starts to hurt, then your options for treatment become more extensive and something like maybe a baby root canal and a crown on top of it, or maybe even an extraction. So untreated dental carries can lead to an infection that can affect our whole body and be a true emergency.

Gina Graziani, DDS, MS – Chair Department of Pediatric Dentistry

Additionally, she said, there is gum disease to think about if not visiting a dentist as recommended. Dentists can help remove bacterial deposits on the teeth that could lead to gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease. As gingivitis continues unchecked, it inflames the gums, and sometimes the bone that holds the tooth will become inflamed.

This is a long-term process, but aggressive forms can happen relatively faster in children, Graziani said. That’s why it’s important to see a dental care professional even during a pandemic.

“If there are any problems, or your child is having any type of pain, or swelling, if there’s a traumatic incident as far as falling and breaking your tooth, please visit your dental healthcare provider as soon as you can,” Graziani said. “The dental school is open mostly five days a week; we take emergency walk-ins all the time; we’re just here to help.”

Child receiving a dental cleaning

She said the school would try to remain open as long as possible. It hopes to do so by strictly abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for personal protective equipment, social distancing, and remaining safe during a pandemic.

The push to remain open is motivated by a desire to help patients and understand that WVU has every specialty needed to help, Graziani said. The school has also seen what can happen when someone puts off treatment because of the pandemic.

Graziani said a patient stopped by in May presenting gum pain and swelling that started in March. The patient could not visit her regular dentist because of the coronavirus lockdown and then found out that WVU had always been accepting patients for emergencies only after two months.

The proper referrals were made, she received a biopsy and found out that she had been diagnosed with a malignant cancer.

“And so the importance of that, especially in the world of pandemic, is that she went for two months without knowing that she had a malignant type of cancer that was starting in her mouth before she got treatment,” Graziani said. “But I am so happy that she came to WVU Medicine because that allows the dental school and the hospital to work together to help take care of her both from an oral standpoint and then from an overall systemic standpoint with her malignant type of cancer.”

Artist rendering of planned WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital in Morgantown.

To best meet all the medical demands of mothers and children in West Virginia and the surrounding region, WVU Medicine Children’s is building a new state of the art hospital. It is slated for completion in the summer of 2021. Right now, as construction continues, the hospital continues to fund the expansion effort through its Grow campaign.

You can find out more about the new hospital and how to donate throw the Grow Children’s website.

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