There are early indications that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is taking a serious, and potentially long-lasting, toll on our oral health. Only within the past few decades have researchers begun to appreciate the extent to which oral health is inextricable from a person’s overall physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.
The mouth harbors bacteria and other microorganisms that interact with bodily systems in ways that are only starting to be understood. Stress and dietary changes can alter the oral microbiome as well. All of which suggests that the pandemic could affect people’s oral health—and thus the rest of their biology—in unpredictable ways, says Mary E. Northridge, PhD, MPH, director of dental research and research associate professor in the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone. “My fear is that the populations that were vulnerable before COVID-19 are going to get walloped,” she adds.
The groups hardest hit by COVID-19—among them older adults and Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant communities—were already the most likely to experience from cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer. And before the pandemic, about a third of adults were not receiving preventive oral healthcare. This deficit has become “a marker of poverty” in America, says Dr. Northridge, an author of a January 2020 article on oral health care disparities published in the Annual Review of Public Health.
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