The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted quality of life (QoL) for many people around the world, including patients who enter the dental office for oral health care, and has disrupted our day to day routines. Not needing to leave (or not being able to leave) home to go to work, or school, disrupts routines like brushing teeth twice a day and flossing daily. It may also increase the amount and types of food and drink individuals consume, and increase snacking. Additionally, the pandemic has been stressful contributing to an increase in bruxism among patients. These changes can have a negative impact on oral health and it has been shown that dentinal hypersensitivity negatively affects QoL. Changes in dietary habits and increased snacking may also contribute to an increased risk for caries.
Dentinal hypersensitivity refers to a sharp, sudden pain experienced when teeth with exposed dentin and open dentinal tubules are exposed to stimuli. The stimulus may be from touch such as from toothbrushing, flossing, or a dental instrument touching the exposed dentin; changes in temperature (such as breathing in cold air or drinking a hot/cold beverage), sweet or sour foods/drinks. Possible reasons for exposed dentin include periodontal disease, gingival recession, erosion, abrasion and abfraction. It is estimated that 50% of patients who experience hypersensitivity do not report their pain. Dental professionals have a unique opportunity to help improve QoL for their patients by addressing dentinal hypersensitivity. Below are a few steps to help dental professionals discuss dentinal hypersensitivity with silent sufferers and to help patients with this condition improve their QoL.
In discussing hypersensitivity with patients, we can start by engaging patients in conversation beyond traditional questions such as “are you experiencing any pain.” Instead, ask questions like “do you avoid eating certain foods that cause your teeth to feel sensitive” or “do you avoid brushing in certain areas because it causes sensitivity.” Take note of the patient’s response to stimuli during the appointment. Are they sensitive to things like the suction, ultrasonic, hand instrumentation or the air/water syringe in specific areas? Not only will these stimuli make the appointment uncomfortable for the patient, but it can also make it difficult for the dental professional to provide optimal care.
Applying a desensitizing serum prior to treatment, Anywhere, Anytime, alleviates discomfort for patients with dentinal hypersensitivity creating a more pleasant experience for the patient during treatment. For at-home relief from sensitivity, patients can take the Anywhere, Anytime serum home with them. Over-the-counter toothpaste containing potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride can be recommended to patients for relief from sensitivity. For patients with sensitivity who are also at increased risk for dental caries, Colgate PreviDent Sensitive is a prescription-level fluoride toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate for sensitivity relief as well as 5,000 ppm fluoride for caries prevention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges in everyday life. Changes in oral care routines, dietary habits and an increase in bruxism are some of the negative impacts dental care providers are seeing among patients. Providing patients with solutions that relieve dentinal hypersensitivity will have a positive influence on patients' QoL. With QoL already impacted by COVID-19, this is one small way to help.