Have you noticed that your dental health habits have changed during the pandemic? COVID-19 has completely changed how most people operate in the world today, and that includes dental health habits and their general approach to oral health.
In general, many people around the world say they don't brush their teeth regularly, simply because they forget. And very few people say they have no dental problems at all. So when COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown and dental practices closed globally, how did it impact people's personal dental habits?
Recent studies have examined how people have changed their dental routines over the course of the pandemic, as well as looking at the reasons behind them.
Are we taking better care of our teeth than before? Let's find out.
Have people's dental health habits changed?
The 2021 Oral Health Awareness Survey by Sunstar found that 21% of people feel that the pandemic hasn't affected their oral health. This means that 79% of people felt their oral health was affected in some way. This includes people who haven't been able to get appointments, and are still suffering from dental issues because of this.
1 in 3 UK citizens say they have missed a dentist or hygienist appointment, and 1 in 10 have a fractured tooth that hasn’t been fixed. Many of these were unable to get an appointment at all during one of the lockdowns. Others are putting off visiting the dentist because of fears of overexposure to COVID-19.
Because of this, the pandemic has also led to more people doing their own DIY dentistry, which can be damaging and is definitely not recommended! Up to 17% of Americans surveyed said they have tried to pull their own teeth. Singapore and Indonesia have the highest rate of people admitting to home DIY dentistry.
If we look at the pandemic impact on a global scale, Argentinians have missed the most appointments, at 44% of the people surveyed. Americans have noticed the most increased tooth sensitivity at 25%, and Thailand has had the most concerns over ‘mask breath’ at 33%.
So it seems that dental health has been impacted all over the world in some way or another.
Are people brushing their teeth more?
Another study by GSK addressed what habits people have changed because of the pandemic, and why. People were surveyed from five European countries and four South-East Asia countries. 500 people in each country were surveyed, focusing on habits before and after the pandemic began.
While 22% of people reported an increased amount of brushing, the majority of people have not changed their habits. However, in South-East Asia, 37% of people reported they were brushing their teeth more. Globally 36% of younger people aged 18 – 29 said the same.
Interestingly, many people said they were using specific toothpaste for their teeth for different conditions, and that they would continue to buy these kinds of toothpaste in the future.
The Sunstar Oral Health Awareness Survey found that 27% of people worldwide are cleaning their teeth more and 22% are using mouthwash more regularly than before the pandemic. However, up to 28% of people surveyed have also missed dental appointments.
What has been the main driver for changing dental habits?
When people were asked why they had increased their brushing habits during the pandemic, it seems that the main driver was wearing a mask. This trend seemed to be greater with Europeans surveyed who had not been used to wearing masks prior to the pandemic.
This is because people are more conscious of how their breath smells when wearing a mask, a phenomenon known as ‘mask breath.’
After ‘mask breath’, the next biggest driver for increased oral hygiene is to compensate for the lack of dental appointments over lockdown.
Even now, waiting lists for appointments in many areas of the UK are still 3 months long or more. Some reports are now saying that waiting lists in some areas are as long as 26 months to register at a dental practice!
People who are not currently registered with a dentist might struggle to get an appointment at all. Perhaps this increased motivation to care for our teeth will continue for a while longer.
How do people expect their habits to change in the next 6 months?
Although habits have changed throughout the pandemic, the GSK study asked if people are likely to go back to the way they were before as the world slowly returns to normal. 64% of people responded that they planned to see a dentist in the next 6 months.
This shows that although people have had reservations about going to the dentist during the pandemic, they are planning to get an appointment with things calming down.
Some of the habits that people said they would carry on with include:
- Brushing their teeth more
- Swishing with mouthwash regularly
- Using specific toothpaste for certain conditions
The study also found that not many people realise their dental health can have an impact on their overall health. So hopefully, with more people planning to visit a dentist, preventative measures can be taken to improve not only people's dental health but also their overall health.
Are dentists seeing more patients yet?
It is great that people are more likely to feel comfortable going to a dentist again now that the world is going back to normal after COVID-19. However, it may not be that easy to get an appointment yet as dentists are still working through a backlog from being shut during the lockdown.
Many are also having to work at half capacity due to new hygiene regulations and social distancing. This is because although regulations have relaxed with most other places, dental practices are still a primary medical centre and therefore have to adhere to stricter rules.
But don’t let this put you off. If you are registered with a dentist, you can make an appointment in advance, and if you have an emergency, you should be able to book an emergency slot at your practice.
For those that aren’t registered with a practice, it is best to keep trying to find one that is taking new patients on before you really need an appointment. Unfortunately, for those who need care and can’t seem to find an NHS dentist to register with, paying for private care may be the only option.
After looking at the statistics from two separate studies, it seems that over a quarter of people have improved their dental habits during the pandemic. This mainly includes an increase in people brushing their teeth and using mouthwash.
This is due to a new phenomenon known as ‘mask breath,’ where people are more aware of how their breath smells from wearing a mask. No one likes smelling their own bad breath, so they are cleaning their teeth more!
Although many people didn’t want to visit a dentist during the pandemic, with things calming down, up to 60% of people plan to see a dentist in the next 6 months, if they can get an appointment that is!
A negative effect of the pandemic has been a rise in DIY dentistry, which is never recommended. But, unfortunately, many people have felt they had no other choice. Hopefully, now we'll begin to see waiting lists reduce so that everyone can access the care they need.
Sunstar. Global Healthy Thinking Report 2021. Consulted 17th November 2021.
GSK. Back to the dentist – new study highlights urgent need to tackle oral healthcare habits post COVID-19. Consulted 17th November 2021.
BBC. NHS dentists: 26 month wait to register and have check up. Consulted 27th October.