Did you know that your teeth and gum health can impact your overall health? This month, Danny Vogwill, a University of Illinois student studying interdisciplinary health sciences, highlights the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on oral health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our world, ushering in an age of work from home, vaccination protocols, social distancing, but what if I told you your dental health was also at risk during the pandemic?
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated, “Populations at higher risk for many chronic diseases are similar to those at higher risk for developing oral diseases.” This increased risk, alongside the nationwide closures of many dental practices, made for an incredibly dangerous combination that left many Americans’ oral health at the wayside.
Regular dental cleanings and hygiene checkups are recommended every six months. These compounding factors can explain why people’s oral health has declined, with some individuals claiming they have not been to the dentist in three years due to the pandemic.
The high risk of spreading COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic kept people from attend any nonessential medical exams, and with oral health, having someone within such proximity to an open mouth was probably pretty scary. As stay-at-home mandates and procedures began to loosen, people were still hesitant to book an appointment with a dentist, as virus cases still flared up from time to time.
Another factor that could be at play in the decrease in dental appointments is the high out-of-pocket costs. At the start of the pandemic, a 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated, “Of the 16.9 million people unemployed in July, 9.6 million (57 percent) were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic.” Since many Americans use health benefits through their job to help cover dental costs, those without jobs would be at a loss.
Those no longer employed can opt for COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which allows an individual to continue to pay for the insurance plan offered by their employer, but this is usually more expensive since the individual is now covering the entire cost.
In a report on oral health in 2000, the surgeon general mentioned that it is essential to overall health and well-being. The second-ever report on oral health is in the works now, and it will be interesting to see if the effects of the pandemic are included.
Dentists have indicated that they have seen decreased visits due to the pandemic. A 2021 study by Meyers and Danesh stated, “During the pandemic, the quarterly fluoride utilization rate significantly decreased at dental visits.” The long-term effects of forgone dental-health maintenance range from tooth decay to oral infections and worse if left untreated.
The British Dental Journal found a link between poor oral hygiene and hyper-inflammation, leading to a higher risk of more severe infection from COVID-19. The study urged British residents and the world to reinvest in oral health and schedule an appointment with their dentist.
There is no need to panic, because there are still things you can do to ensure that your oral health is not in jeopardy. Make sure to call your dentist’s office and set up an appointment.
There are options for those that still do not feel comfortable going to dental offices in person. Telemedicine has been on the rise since the pandemic for both physical and oral health. Individuals can opt for a virtual call with their dentist to perform a supervised fluoride treatment and answer questions when in-person visits are not ideal.
We cannot forget about our teeth as we think about getting back to full health. In 2020, the CDC stated, “The mouth is indispensable to eating, speaking, smiling and quality of life. The most prevalent oral conditions are dental cavities and periodontal diseases, and they are largely preventable.”
As we continue to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all help our overall health and well-being by flossing and brushing twice a day and making sure the next time you see the dentist, they are captivated by your gorgeous smile!