Dental health will have, no doubt, taken a hit over the last 12 months as hordes of appointments were cancelled in a bid to protect the nation. Those who were less likely to seek help are even less likely now. Vulnerable groups afraid to expose themselves to the virus understandably will have put off seeing a dentist despite it being much needed. Now, as we come out of lockdown, how can we support the public to seek help and get back on top of their dental care?
Dental staff have a duty to treat and protect. This has proven more difficult from afar but there are options to help spread the message of good dental care remotely. Staff should use online channels to reach out to vulnerable groups, particularly those less likely to seek help. Social media is a great channel to educate and advise online and gives practices a voice despite the difficult circumstances.
While practices remained shut during lockdown, some individuals resorted to DIY dentistry at home. Now that restrictions are starting to ease, practices now have an opportunity to reach out to groups who think they can do a better job at home and support them in finding the right care. COVID-19 has exposed flaws in the system and let people slip through the net but making changes can help strengthen future practice post-pandemic.
When practices were forced to close in 2020 and non-urgent cases were turned away, this led to a lot of people, particularly children, missing out on initial check-ups. Parents also felt apprehensive about putting their child at risk of potential harm. As a result, crucial appointments were lost and children were forgotten. Dental staff have a responsibility to help alleviate that stress and as practices reopen, nurses should emphasise that practices are safe. It’s important to educate parents so that children are not discouraged from attending vital appointments.
Nurses can use online channels to promote good oral health, particularly to parents who may not feel ready to take their children into the surgery. Nurses can also share top brushing tips and healthy eating advice so as to help parents protect their children’s teeth and prevent poor habits.
Brits were the worst perpetrators in Europe for avoiding appointments during the pandemic. Approximately 43% avoided the dentist altogether despite an increase in unhealthy eating behaviours during the same time period. The biggest concern for many was the exposure to the
virus. Given that dental work exposes one of the key transmissions routes for COVID-19, this was enough to keep people away even if they could secure an appointment. Despite the fact that the chances of contracting COVID-19 at the dentist were incredibly low thanks to strict sterile procedures in place, there was still a great level of discomfort in attending an appointment.
Dental nurses can play a role in helping to educate and inform their patients about safety and reassure them that the dental practice is incredibly safe. It’s important that dental health standards across the population do not fall behind due to the pandemic.