I took a walk the other day in an effort momentarily escape the confines of my New York City apartment during this mandatory period where most of us are at home. I found myself in the oral care section of the large pharmacy in my neighborhood. The experience was almost as liberating as my weekly trips to the supermarket!
As I strolled the aisles, I happened upon the Oral Care section. I was stunned to view the veritable cornucopia of dental supplies and the amount of shelf space they occupied. From floss and toothbrushes to denture adhesive, self-molding mouthguards, and more toothpaste choices than flavors at Baskin-Robbins.
Okay, it might be a bit of hyperbole to say I was stunned, but I haven’t been getting out much these days!
Let’s take the mouthwash section – Fuggedaboutit! Presented before my eyes was an incredible selection of mouthwashes and mouth rinses – fluoridated, non-fluoridated, antibacterial, antiseptic, mouth-deodorizing, dry-mouth formulated, and more.
And the dental floss section? Wow. More types of dental filament than I knew even existed! You have your waxed, your unwaxed, your flavored, your thin, thick, tufted, threaded, and multi-colored in a selection of hues rivaling a box of Crayola 64s.
The over-the-counter oral products industry generates a massive $10 billion per year. So, it’s no surprise pharmacy shelves are simply teeming with dental supplies.
So, as I contemplated the dizzying display of dental products, something suddenly struck me. During these restrictive days of COVID-19, most dental offices are closed. Some, like mine, open only for emergencies. (Click here to view my emergency office hours.)
Under these conditions, it’s a real comfort to me to know relief is available for many dental conditions at the local pharmacy.
What To Do When You Have A Dental Problem & Your Dentist’s Office Is Closed
If you have teeth, which I assume you do, and you’re experiencing an unexpected dental problem there are many over-the-counter remedies and temporary solutions available at your pharmacy
If your problem is severe, such as swelling, swollen lymph nodes, extreme pain, or difficulty swallowing you should find a dentist who has emergency hours. But, for less severe problems, I’d like to offer some advice so you can choose the over-the-counter product that’s right for you:
Over-The-Counter Help For Broken Teeth, Lost Fillings, & Loose Crowns
Among the most frequent dental calamities are broken teeth, lost or broken fillings, fractured teeth, and dislodged crowns. It’s scary when it happens but an ingenious product that can fill the void if a piece of your tooth, a filling, or a crown goes AWOL. It’s called Dentemp O.S.
Dentemp is a fantastic dental material you can use to spackle over a broken tooth or fill the space left behind when a filling is dislodged or lost. It can even be thinned-out to re-cement a wayward crown and a thinning solution is included in the package.
I frequently recommend Dentemp to my patients who are in trouble but can’t get to my office right away. If you choose to try Dentemp, please follow the directions and remember, it is only a stop-gap measure until you can see your dentist.
Over-The-Counter Help For Sore or Bleeding Gums
During this mandated shutdown, even the most conscientious of patients cannot maintain their regular schedule of cleanings and exams. You may have been overdue for yours before the shutdown started. In either case, you may be noticing that your teeth and mouth feel different than usual.
Your gums may bleed when you brush or be more tender and swollen than usual. This condition is likely gingivitis – the early stage of gum disease. When gingivitis is accompanied by bone loss, more advanced gum disease (periodontitis) has set in.
I predict that periodontitis is going to be a primary area of concern for both patients and dentists when offices are finally given the green light to re-open. Here are three preventative measures I recommend until you can see the dentist:
- Brush at least twice a day (duh)
- Floss once a day (every day)
- Switch to an electric toothbrush (hmm…)
Why You Should Consider Switching To An Electric Toothbrush
An electric toothbrush is way more efficient than an old-fashioned manual brush and there is a wide variety to choose from on your pharmacy shelf. When selecting an electric toothbrush, expensive doesn’t always mean better. Go for a model with soft nylon bristles and a timer. The timer will keep you from taking shortcuts.
Also, be sure to buy an extra brush head or two. You must change the brush head every three months and especially when you or someone in your household has been ill.
One more thing: be gentle! You’re not scouring ceramic tile here.
Not The Most Diligent Flosser? It’s Understandable
With all the stress we’re under, your patience could be running a little thin. You’re no longer the diligent flosser you once were. Or, you may never have been able to get into all the nooks and crannies in your dentition. (By nooks and crannies I’m not referring to Thomas’s English Muffins). Because you haven’t had a cleaning for a while, gunk has had a chance to build-up on your teeth.
One option is to buy an interdental brush. Interdental brushes are small-headed toothbrushes that are available in a range of different sizes to match the space between teeth. They can help you access hard-to-reach places where food and plaque are trapped. And you can find them in your pharmacy.
Many people choose to use a water flosser, instead. Popular choices are the Waterpik® Water Flosser and Phillips Sonicare’s Airfloss. Water flossers work by gently and efficiently flushing food debris from between your teeth.
How To Choose The Right Mouthwash Or Mouth Rinse
The pharmacy stocks such a dizzying array of mouthwash and mouth rinses, it’s hard to know which one to buy. However, specific mouthwashes are meant for specific conditions – there’s a specific mouthwash or rinse for sore gums, sensitive teeth, dry mouth, cold sores, canker sores, and bruxism. Here’s how to choose:
- Sore or Tender Gums: To treat sore or swollen gums choose an antiseptic mouthwash. Antibacterial rinses can also help reduce the inflammation caused by bacteria that have converted into plaque.
- Sensitive Teeth: Teeth that are sensitive to temperature changes need fluoride. Thankfully there are a lot of mouthwashes that contain it. Fluoride reduces sensitivity by placing a protective coating on root surfaces that have been exposed due to receding gums. It can also prevent tooth decay and even stop the progression of early cavities.
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia): Dry mouth is often caused by anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and high blood pressure prescriptions. Dry mouth can also accompany medical conditions such as diabetes, auto-immune disorders, and cancer treatment.
Choose a hydrating product such as those made by Biotene®. It will moisturize your oral tissues and thereby provides some relief. But, stay away from any product containing a high level of alcohol; alcohol can irritate tender tissues and some products are 40% alcohol!
- Cold Sores: Cold sores or herpes simplex of the lip, can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Your face mask may be hiding your cold sore, but concealing it does not replace treatment.
When taken early, the prescription drug, Valtrex® can shorten the duration and severity of a cold sore outbreak. As soon as you feel that tingling and itching (prodromal symptoms), start taking it. If you can’t get a prescription for Valtrex®, try the over-the-counter topical cream Abreva®. It can give you some relief and might even shorten the duration of your outbreak.
- Canker Sores: These nasty little beasts run the gamut from mildly uncomfortable to outright painful. They can make eating a challenge, too, especially if you have one on the side of your tongue or under it)
It’s not definitively understood why people get these dastardly demons of the oral cavity, but there’s evidence that psychological stress and physiological stress (such as the onset of menses) may play a role.
For canker sores, warm salt water rinses can be soothing. But today you can purchase topical anesthetic ointments and mouth rinses. They contain the anesthetic benzocaine, which can provide a reprieve from the discomfort. Good options are Cankaid, Ambesol, and Orajel™.
About Teeth-Clenching & Grinding
Most of us are just trying to get through this very stressful time and doing what we can to keep ourselves calm. In fact, the owner of our local liquor store reports business is way up. He’s busier now than during the Christmas holidays.
I told her, “There are only 12 days of Christmas, but we’ve just passed the two-month mark of an unprecedented global calamity. No wonder you’re busy!”
Human beings are physiological organisms, and each of us handles stress in our own way. But one thing we know is that stress can cause bruxism – when you teeth-clenching and grinding at night and/or during the day. Bruxism is a leading cause of premature tooth wear, jaw muscle spasms, and pain in the TMJs (your temporomandibular, or jaw, joints).
If you’re a bruxer, your dentist would likely prescribe a custom-fitted occlusal appliance, usually called a nightguard. A nightguard will help to reduce the symptoms, protect your teeth, and minimize damage to your TMJs. A custom-fitted nightguard is your best choice, but since your dentist may not be available, there is a variety of self-molding night guards at…you guessed it…your local pharmacy.
Please be careful with a do-it-yourself nightguard. It requires a proper fit to do its job. Do it wrong, and you may exacerbate an underlying problem. Follow the directions carefully and see your dentist as soon as the restrictions have lifted.
The times we’re all living through are unprecedented. So many things we took for granted before we can’t do now – like going to a movie, dining in a restaurant, or getting a haircut. Our dental care has been disrupted, too.
For me, it feels like an eternity since I was available for my patients. I thrive when I serve my patients, and this period has been enormously challenging for me. My visit to the pharmacy’s dental aisle made me miss my patients and my staff even more.
I’m trying to heed the words of my very wise grandmother: “This too shall pass.” In the meantime, please try to keep yourself safe and healthy.
Wash your hands.
Wear a mask.
And, brush your darn teeth!