Impacts of WFH on Dental Health

Dr Oh Xue Ling BDS (Adelaide)

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As we adapt to life with Covid-19, multiple adjustments have to be made, for instance working from home whenever possible. However, such lifestyle changes, additional stress, and anxiety caused by working from home can also bring about problems with your teeth. Here we look at some of the common negative effects working from home has on one’s dental health.

1. Increased quantity and frequency of snacking.

The convenience of food (and snack) delivery, coupled with the culture of “gifting” food to close friends and relatives during this pandemic time has seen an increase in snacking for many people. Most snacks and drinks, such as bubble tea, are high in sugar and carbohydrate. These provide food and nutrients for decay-causing bacteria to grow and proliferate, increasing the risk of developing dental decay. This is especially so if snacks were eaten frequently throughout the day.

To prevent this, try healthier snacks that are lower in sugar and carbohydrates, and limit the frequency as well as quantity of snacks.

2. Reduction in brushing habits.

It is common to hear of people working from home in their pajamas. After all, it is more comfortable, and changing to work attire is not necessary since there is no need to go into the office. With the omission of some of these daily routines, it is not surprising to hear that some people omit to brush teeth as well. As people get used to life at home, many become more complacent on the upkeep of personal hygiene, such as brushing and flossing.

It may not be detrimental to skip a morning shower. However, it is not the same for brushing. Food that we eat breaks down into plaque that adheres to the surface of our teeth. If they are not removed mechanically by brushing, they remain on the teeth, housing bacteria and attracting more at the same time. These bacteria not only cause dental decay, but they can also cause gum diseases.

3. Clenching of teeth more frequently.

Multiple zoom meetings, increased working hours, trying to cope with distractions at home, are some of the contributing factors to increased stress felt by employees while working from home. Stress, anxiety, and possibly bad ergonomics, can increase clenching habits in the day, or nocturnal grinding while asleep. These translate to greater load on teeth and may result in:

a) Attrition— The wearing down, or grinding of teeth along the biting surfaces. To minimise further wear of the teeth, your dentist may recommend a nightguard to protect the teeth during nocturnal grinding.

b) Fractured fillings— Fillings may fracture under the increased load. These can cause sensitivity and also recurrent decay as food and bacteria can get into the gap between the fractured filling and tooth.

c) Cracked teeth— Crack lines form on teeth after being subjected to stress and load over a period of time. If these cracks are detected early and treated appropriately, the tooth can most often be saved. However, some cracks are deep and have already progressed to the roots of the tooth, leaving no choice but an extraction.

In conclusion, stress and bad habits formed over the new routine of staying home can be damaging to our dental health. Routine dental checkups can prevent the progression of dental diseases that otherwise could be left unnoticed until they become a major problem.

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