By The Nation (sponsored news)
The pandemic's repeated lockdowns, restrictions on people's movements and work-at-home edicts have all contributed to shifting daily habits and behaviours, ultimately impacting people's oral health.
“Let’s call it for what it is – a dental disaster,” said Dr Gerhard Konrad Seeberger, president of the FDI World Dental Federation. “Restrictions have certainly played a part in oral health hesitancy, but they don’t tell the whole story.”
When Covid-19 first hit the world, dental clinics across the world were forced to close. For two or three months, all dental appointments had to be postponed or cancelled.
The World Health Organisation reported that oral health services were among the most affected by the pandemic, with 77 per cent of countries reporting partial or complete disruption.
Before the second wave hit, dental practices in many countries were able to reopen. Dentists have always abided by the most stringent infection prevention and control protocols and have also revised hygiene measures mandated by governments.
A recent survey indicates that oral health professionals have significantly lower infection rates than other healthcare workers in most parts of the world.
Despite this, many people have still avoided routine check-ups and only visit the dentist once they are in extreme pain. Many have developed advanced tooth decay and related complications, including infections, which makes treatment more complex.
Prof Paulo Melo, an FDI councillor who teaches and practises dentistry in Portugal, has seen a dozen of high-risk patients who were afraid of getting infected and had postponed their appointments. High-risk patients are encouraged to have a dental check-up every three to six months. Instead, many have waited nine months to a year, or more, between appointments. Many have reported severe toothache and complications, leading to extractions for some and endodontic treatments for others.
“During the pandemic, high-risk patients have tended to develop more than one problem, because too much time has gone by without a check-up,” Melo said. “Problems typically include caries lesions and gum disease.”
“Dental caries that could have been treated with a simple restoration have now gone to the stage of apical periodontitis and abscesses, which call for more sophisticated treatment,” said Dr Vanishree MK, a professor in Public Health Dentistry, based in the Indian city of Bangalore. “Patients should set aside their fear and not postpone essential, routine dental treatment.”
Dr Maria Fernanda Atuesta Mondragon, president of the Colombian Dental Federation and FDI councillor, said: “One of the dramatic consequences of the pandemic is that oral health issues that were not considered urgent during the outbreak did, in fact, became urgent after having to wait two months to seek treatment.
“We've seen some patients undergoing orthodontic treatment who have lost the gaps that were created for their teeth to align, while others have developed significant periodontal issues.”
Dr Nahawand Abdulrahman Thabet, who practises in Cairo, Egypt, and is an FDI councillor, said: “Teenagers usually suffer from dental caries, and I've observed an increasing level of tooth decay in this age group.
“A 15-year-old patient of mine admitted he had been snacking more while stuck at home since the closure of his school. I imagine thousands of kids his age are in a similar situation.”
Maintaining good oral care habits like day and night brushing is imperative. A global study conducted by Unilever found that children mirror parents’ behaviours at a detriment to their own health. Children are seven times more likely to skip brushing if their parent does not brush day and night. Surveyed dentists agreed that the change in children's oral care habits stemmed from the change in parents’ routines. Despite the ongoing challenges with the pandemic, parents must prioritise their oral care routines as well as those of their children.
Dr Seeberger emphasised that "people must not be afraid to visit the dentist. Safeguarding oral health is of paramount importance to ensure general health, well-being and good quality of life.”
Marked every year on March 20, World Oral Health Day was launched by FDI World Dental Federation to raise global awareness on the prevention and control of oral diseases.