Cover Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

It is difficult to assess the impact of the pandemic on public health to date, even though statistics show that many appointments, examinations and treatments were postponed during the first lockdowns. In the United States, parents are already concerned about the consequences of covid-19 on the oral health of their children, who could suffer from the delay of health professionals during this period of uncertainty.

Health professionals have been studying the impact of the pandemic on children's oral health, focusing on a survey conducted by the University of Michigan Medical Center. Their report is based on the responses of 1,882 parents with at least one child between the ages of 3 and 18, a nationally representative sample. One finding—and a major one—is that one in three parents believe that covid-19 has made it more difficult for their children to get preventive dental care. 

In the United States, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends regular teeth cleaning and examinations every six months for children as soon as their first teeth appear. These check-ups are intended to help manage cavities early to prevent them from getting worse, to provide preventive treatment, and to educate parents and children about good oral hygiene. But that was a schedule developed before the pandemic, which has considerably delayed certain treatments, on both sides of the Atlantic as in many countries around the world. 

Six out of ten parents surveyed tried to continue their children's preventive dental care during the pandemic. And while some were successful, almost a quarter (24 per cent) say they experienced delays in getting this care, and 7 per cent say they were unable to get a single appointment. The closing of dental offices is among the reasons cited by respondents, as is the fact that some dentists have focused solely on urgent care. But in several cases, some parents simply say they were afraid of being exposed to COVID-19, delaying dental appointments on their own.

The gap grows

Already present before the start of the health crisis, inequalities in health insurance have increased with the pandemic. The study found that the inability to get a dental appointment during COVID-19 was three times more common among children receiving Medicaid—the public health insurance program for low-income individuals and households—than among those with private dental coverage.

Specifically, 15 per cent of parents of children with Medicaid coverage said they were unable to get an appointment for preventive dental care, compared to 4 per cent of those with private dental insurance. Sarah Clark, who co-directed the study, says that these children, who are already struggling to find a dentist outside of the pandemic period, have had to cope with the reduction of some preventive dental services in schools or public dental clinics during the health crisis. 

Better oral hygiene?

Surprisingly, parents generally noted an improvement in their children's oral hygiene during the pandemic. This included more frequent brushing (16 per cent), flossing (11 per cent), use of mouthwash (9 per cent), as well as less consumption of sugary drinks (15 per cent).

In total, more than a quarter of parents (28 per cent) reported that their children had developed a new good habit, including 37 per cent of parents of children with Medicaid coverage, 32 per cent without any dental coverage, and 24 per cent of those with private insurance.

"We were pleased to find parents describing positive changes in how their children are taking care of their teeth at home. Daily brushing and flossing and avoiding sugary drinks are important ways to prevent tooth decay," said the main author of the study.

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