THREE QUARTERS OF DENTISTS HAVE SEEN SIGNIFICANT IMPACT OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON ORAL HEALTH OF THEIR PATIENTS

  • Nearly two thirds don’t expect to see normal service resume for at least 6 months to a year;
  • 71% now recommending at-home oral health tools to protect patients’ oral health;
  • Sugarfree gum recommended by 71% of survey respondents as an at-home oral healthcare tool.

A new survey conducted by the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme has revealed the extent to which dental professionals across the country have adapted to continued lockdowns.

A survey of 420 dental professionals found that just over three quarters (76%) have seen a significant, or very significant, impact on patients’ oral health since the beginning of the pandemic. Three quarters of those who have seen a significant or very significant impact on the oral health of their patients have noticed a decline in routine dental appointments during the pandemic. Hygienists’ appointments have also fallen by the wayside as dentists have only been able to see, for the most part, urgent appointments.

Dental professionals continue to worry about the impact that continued lockdowns are having on their ability to see and treat patients. Nearly two thirds of respondents (65%) said they expect normal service to resume within either the next 6 months to a year, suggesting that even if the third national lockdown lifts gradually from March as planned, the return to normal services will be slow, given the stringent COVID-19 measures in place.

Findings show that dental professionals were able to effectively adjust to a new way of working as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, adapting the way they treated and cared for their patients. 71% of survey respondents said they had shifted to recommending at-home oral health tools while their patients have been unable to access treatment or attend physical practices. Prominent at-home recommendations included floss, mouthwash, electric toothbrushes and interdental brushes, as well as continuing to encourage good oral health routines.

Dental professionals also recognised the important role that chewing sugarfree gum can play in helping to protect your oral health when at home. The survey revealed that 71% of dental professionals recommend the use of sugarfree gum as an oral health tool for their patients. 78% of those who recommended sugarfree gum, did so because of the recognised benefits that chewing sugarfree gum can have on oral health. These benefits have been demonstrated by the systematic review of the oral health benefits of sugarfree gum released by King’s College London Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences (KCL) in November 2019.

However, the recognised oral health benefits of chewing sugarfree gum are not the only reason that dental professionals recommend it. 76% of respondents extolled the accessibility of sugarfree gum, and just over half (53%) praised the fact that it is inexpensive for patients to buy.

Dr Ben Atkins, President of the Oral Health Foundation said: ‘It is clear that the dental profession has faced an unprecedented challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first lockdown, dentists were unable to operate practically any services except urgent care and the subsequent COVID-19 guidance for the industry, whilst essential for dentists’ and patients’ safety, has meant that most practices are unable to see the volume of patients they’d like. This survey highlights the important role that at-home measures have played in protecting the oral health of the nation while people are unable to access regular dental care, and the role they will likely continue to play as we look ahead to hopefully exiting lockdown’.

Eddie Crouch, Chair of the British Dental Association said: "The impact COVID has had on the nation's oral health will be felt for years to come. Even before COVID deep health inequalities and access problems were the norm, and now both have been set into overdrive. 'Business as usual' will not be returning any time soon, and policymakers, patients and practitioners all need to make the right choices if we're to avert an oral health crisis."

Polly Garland at the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme said: ‘Here at the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme, we have spent the last 11 months working with dental professionals and policymakers to truly understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the dental industry and how we may be able to assist dentists in continuing to care for their patients. The role of preventative oral health measures, such as chewing sugarfree gum and brushing your teeth regularly, have never been so important as they have been this year. We look forward to continuing to work with dental professionals to share the important benefits that preventative oral health measures bring.’

[1] Banerjee A. et al. (2019): A systematic review and meta-analysis of the role of sugar-free chewing gum in dental caries. Available online from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2380084419887178?journalCode=jcta

ENDS


Notes for editors:

  • The survey was conducted between December 2020 and January 2021. The survey sample consisted of dental professionals who are subscribed to the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme website.
  • The Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme works with dental professionals, oral health groups and policymakers to promote the important role that preventative measures such as chewing sugarfree gum, regular brushing and flossing can play in protecting oral health.
  • The King’s College London review, which examined 360 studies (of which 222 were assessed and 14 included for the meta-analysis), showed that the prevented fraction (PF) – the proportion of disease incidence that is averted in a population through a health intervention – for sugarfree gum was 28% [ 1].

The questions asked in the survey were optional, so the figures outlined above refer to the proportion of people who responded to each question, not the total number of survey respondents. For further information on the survey, or to speak to a spokesperson, please contact WOHP@lexcomm.co.uk.


[1] Banerjee A. et al. (2019): A systematic review and meta-analysis of the role of sugar-free chewing gum in dental caries. Available online from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2380084419887178?journalCode=jcta




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