Dental services have been virtually non-existent during the pandemic. Practices closed their doors to contain the virus making staff furloughed and even redundant. On top of that, already existing health inequalities were exacerbated by restrictions for hundreds, if not thousands of people. This has been creating even more hurdles for people with poorer health outcomes who are already less likely to receive treatment. These closures have also had an impact on people from minority ethnic backgrounds who are more likely to experience poorer health outcomes as a result of COVID-19 and are also less likely to visit a dentist. Approximately 70% and 68% of Black and Asian groups respectively would only seek the help of a dentist in an emergency compared to 50% of Caucasians. The state of oral health has been compromised for so many people during the pandemic due to a lack of support during these testing times. As the waiting lists grow and demand is at an all-time high for these services, it’s important that those with poorer health outcomes are not disadvantaged. Dental professionals need to prioritise access to these groups so that the inequality gap does not widen any further.
For those seeking help, the difficulties in obtaining an appointment and then potentially exposing themselves to the virus has made them consider waiting. One of the most common reasons given by the public was that they wanted to wait until COVID-19 had ended. Given that we are almost 16 months into this pandemic with no end in sight, that’s a long time to go without seeking any form of dental help.
As large swathes of the country were placed on furlough or made redundant, paying for dental care may have been the bottom of their priority list. Some are willing to live with the pain if it means they can hang on to their much needed cash a little longer. Depending on the severity of the disease, dental procedures can be costly so it’s no surprise that some are taking matters into their own hands. These added pressures are no doubt compromising the oral health for many across the country. Practices should consider introducing discounts and offers, if possible, to encourage those in need to access the right care.
Since most appointments have been emergency only, a lot of people suffering with long-term ailments will have had to learn to manage alone. Thanks to phones, dental staff have still been able to provide some level of support and advice remotely but it doesn’t quite compare to the in-person treatment that they would normally have access to. Though there is little evidence available just yet to suggest that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on public oral care, it goes without saying that the decrease in appointments has led to a rise in DIY dental care. These ‘at home’ dental kits skyrocketed in popularity over lockdown suggesting that people weren’t prepared to wait until COVID-19 had disappeared. On top of that, people ate and drank much more than usual during lockdown which we all know has a negative effect on dental health. We’re well aware of the impact this pandemic has had, but the effects may be felt for months or even years to come. Despite the best efforts from health and care staff globally, there is no denying that this disruption will affect patients for some time. From cancelled appointments to newly formed bad habits, dental practices will be doing their best to undo the damage caused indirectly by this pandemic and will be doing so for years to come.