Covid’s effects on oral health habits

For Dental Health Week (1-7 August), one of the key findings from the Australian Dental Association’s (ADA) annual Consumer Survey of 25,000 Aussies, is that one in three people postponed dental treatment in the last 12 months due to Covid-related concerns.

Of those that postponed, this included 23% of 18-24s rising to 41% of 65-74s, with more women than men putting it off across all age ranges.

Why the delay? 

The main reason for delaying, as cited by respondents, is that they felt that their dental problem was not urgent (26%), while 17% were concerned about catching Covid at the dental clinic or travelling to it, and 16% reported not being in a financial position for dental care and 14% did not attend due to lockdowns or were unable to travel to the dental clinic.

Of those who delayed their dental consultations, 21% felt this adversely affected them, while 17% were unsure whether it did. Residents of Victoria, NSW and the ACT who experienced greater periods of lockdown, more commonly reported that their oral health was adversely affected.

“These statistics tell us a lot about where oral health is sitting for people during the Covid pandemic,” said Dr Mikaela Chinotti, the ADA’s Oral Health Promoter and Sydney dentist.

“With people losing their jobs or working reduced hours, dental care took on a lesser priority or was inaccessible during lockdowns for some families.

“That said though, with two-thirds of people still getting treatments or attending check-ups, particularly in states less impacted by lockdowns, this is good news for the nation’s oral health because oral conditions left untreated can result in serious consequences including for the rest of the body.”

Delaying tactics

Of those who put off a visit, 42% were putting off a usual dental check-up, 26% were putting off checking a new problem, and 24% were delaying treating an existing problem.

A further 8% put off their appointment for ‘Another Reason’.

Reasons for doing so (in order from most reported) included a referral from another health professional for a related medical condition such as teeth grinding, care for a minor injury, cosmetic concerns such as teeth whitening, adjustment or fitting of a dental device like braces and buying dental products like a mouthguard or whitening products.

The next dental visit

Fortunately, many Aussies don’t plan to delay for too long: 54% planned to go in the next 1-3 months, 22% were going to book within 3-12 months and others were either waiting for the pandemic to ease, or to reach full vaccination status or were still unsure.

“Anecdotally we’ve heard from many ADA dentist members that with the stress of the pandemic there’s been an increase in cracked teeth, tooth sensitivity and/or pain associated with clenching or grinding of the teeth and an increase in discomfort from the jaw joint,” said Dr Chinotti.

“For those Aussies who delayed dental care due to the Covid pandemic, Dental Health Week is a great reminder that it’s time to show your teeth some love by taking them on a date to the dentist.

“When not at the dentist, Aussies can also find up-to-date and evidence-based oral health advice online in the form of short educational videos, articles and a multi-episode podcast on the ADA’s consumer-focused website: teeth.org.au.”

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