Is your smile ready for post-pandemic life?

After an unbelievably tough year, it finally feels like we have turned a corner and there are more and more things worth smiling about. Restaurants and travel and parties are back, and masks are no longer required for people who have been vaccinated, which means other people can see your smile now, too. But is your smile ready?  

It is understandable that it might not be. Whether you have noticed it yet or not, the pandemic has likely done some damage to your teeth. Dentists are seeing a significant uptick in cracked teeth that result from teeth grinding, which is often induced by stress. 

Dental clinics throughout Tennessee provide dental care to residents in need

Access to dental care remains a persistent challenge for many Tennesseans. Dentists closed for a while at the start of the pandemic, and a combination of health and financial concerns may have kept people away since they reopened. If cost is a barrier, know that there is a terrific network of more than 19 free and reduced-cost dental clinics across the state known as the Tennessee Charitable Care Network that are ready to work with you to get you the care you need.

These clinics provided a variety of crucial oral health services to nearly 40,000 Tennesseans last year who might not have otherwise received care. This week we are rightly celebrating their impact as Governor Bill Lee has declared this to be the 6th annual Smile Power Oral Health Week. One program in particular is worth highlighting, with the end of the pandemic in mind: for the last few years, in partnership with the state and Delta Dental of Tennessee, these clinics have restored the smiles of thousands of Tennesseans each year via the state’s safety net denture program. 

One of those care recipients, Samantha, a Murfreesboro-based single mom of three, credits Interfaith Dental Clinic with saving her life.  Four years ago, she was missing almost all her teeth and had significant pain and swelling in her face that made it difficult to eat or work. She ended up in the ER with a life-threatening infection.

A friend eventually connected Samantha to the clinic – and that experience changed her life. Interfaith restored her smile, her confidence, and her entire outlook on life. Today, she is a thriving full-time student and mom, and continues to work as a waitress, where she has gone from hiding her mouth when she talked to customers (and welcoming the chance to wear a mask), to eager to show off her new smile today. 

Stories like Samantha’s are inspiring but almost did not happen this year because State funding for the denture program was cut during the pandemic. Amazingly, the program has survived in the meantime, in no small part due to the highly unusual, emergency circumstances of the pandemic: carryover funding from the previous year, when dental offices unexpectedly closed for a while, covered a portion of the funding for this year, and Delta Dental of Tennessee stepped in to cover the rest. And thankfully, the Legislature restored funding for the denture program for the next fiscal year - yet another reason to smile this summer.

Routine preventive dental care remains a priority

Of course, while there is plenty of good news to smile about, the pandemic is not over. I am increasingly worried about a coming wave of problems that will result from delayed or postponed care in the last year, from untreated chronic conditions to delayed cancer diagnoses. Routine preventive care – both medical and dental – is so critical to catching things early on, before they become more serious, painful, and expensive to treat. Last year was tough, no matter how you look at it, but we can make a difference when we share our smiles and take care of our fellow Tennesseans. 

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