Three quarters of dentists have seen significant impact of Covid-19 pandemic on oral health of their patients

18 March 2021
3 min read

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 per cent) 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 per cent) said they expect normal service to resume within the next six 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 per cent 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 sugar-free gum can play in helping to protect your oral health when at home. The survey revealed that 71 per cent of dental professionals recommend the use of sugar-free gum as an oral health tool for their patients. 78 per cent of those who recommended sugar-free gum did so because of the recognised benefits that chewing sugar-free gum can have on oral health. These benefits have been demonstrated by the systematic review of the oral health benefits of sugar-free gum released by King’s College London Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences in November 2019.

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

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’s Principal Executive Committee, 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 sugar-free 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.”