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Toothache during lockdown: Can I go to the dentist at this time?

One of London's top dentists shares her tips on how to manage a dental crisis during the lockdown

Photo by Hubi Farago on Unsplash
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ne of the many ways in which life has changed during the global pandemic and nation-wide lockdown is that we can no longer go to the dentist.

For most of us, provided we keep on top of our dental hygiene, that's not too much of a problem for now. That check-up can wait a few months and you can buy an at-home whitening kit to make sure you sparkle on all those Zoom calls. But what if something goes wrong and you start to feel that telltale throbbing, you chip a tooth or your retainer wire starts to rub?

We asked Dr Safa Al-Naher from Care Dental in Hammersmith, for her advice...

First up, if you have any type of swelling, severe pain or feel increasingly unwell, head straight to A&E. Some cases when left untreated could develop into a potentially life-threatening situation.

What to do if you have a dental emergency during lockdown?

Severe pain: Call your dentist who should be able to diagnose the reason for the pain, and arrange antibiotics or stronger pain killers. You can take a combination of 2 x 500mg paracetamol and 2 x 200mg Ibuprofen (Ibuprofen should only be taken if not exhibiting COVID symptoms, and you don’t suffer from stomach problems).

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General toothache: Take regular painkillers if you need them, and maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Reduce sugary snacks to ensure the decay doesn't get any worse.

Bleeding gums: this is usually the result of gingivitis or gum disease, and your gums will continue to bleed until your oral hygiene improves. Brush your gums and teeth twice a day, spending extra time on areas that bleed, and use interdental brushes or floss to clean in between the teeth.

Dentures rubbing or loose: Consider using a fixative for loose dentures, available from most pharmacies.

Ulcers: You can buy an ulcer gel like Bonjela to reduce the pain before mealtimes in particular. Maintain good oral hygiene and take regular painkillers if needed. Rinsing with saltwater can help with healing and prevent infection. Difflam mouthwash can also be used to reduce pain.

Sensitivity: This can be as a result of receding gums, large fillings, or decay. It can also be induced by frequently consuming acidic foods or liquids. Try placing a sensitive toothpaste on the sensitive areas and leaving it on overnight (you can wear your nightguard or retainer on top if you have one). Maintain good oral hygiene and reduce sugar in your diet to prevent any decay from getting worse.

Cracked tooth: If in pain call your dentist. If you think this tooth needs to be extracted because it is in two pieces, you can go to Guy’s hospital walk-in service, where they are able to extract it for you safely.

Broken filling/ filling has fallen out/ crown or bridge has come off: I advise buying a temporary dental kit from your local pharmacy or Amazon. You will be able to temporarily fill the hole, and then make sure you bite down whilst it’s still soft so that it adapts to your own bite! The same kit can usually be used to cement in a loose crown.

Small chips in teeth that are sharp and irritating: Teeth can chip especially if we find ourselves clenching and grinding our teeth more when stressed. If this happens and there is a sharp part of the tooth that is annoying but not painful, then you can file the sharpness using a clean nail file.

Wisdom tooth pain: This is normally a dull aching pain, but can be sharp. It is not usually made worse by changes in temperature or contact with food, but may feel better after cleaning the area well. This will get better with improved cleaning with a long-handled inter dental or single tufted brush which you can buy from a supermarket or pharmacy. A warm salt water mouthwash is very good for disinfecting the area (just bathe the tooth in the salt water), and you can also dip the interdental brush in it before cleaning in the gum around the wisdom tooth. If the pain is very severe and it is affecting your ability to open your mouth wide enough to reach it, then you may need antibiotics which can be prescribed by your dentist.

Broken retainers: If your wire retainer breaks, comes loose and is sharp or annoying, then you can try to carefully bend the wire in until it is comfortable, or cute carefully with a wire cutter, kitchen scissors, or nail clippers. Remember to clean these with some alcohol first! You can then smooth the edge of the wire with a clean nail file.