A huge health concern in its own right, the Covid-19 pandemic has also created major problems with seemingly unrelated aspects of health. One of these is oral health.
According to the Association of Dental Groups, since the beginning of the first lockdown period in March 2020, there have been over 14 million missed dental appointments in the UK. Beyond this huge figure, what do these missed appointments mean in terms of oral health on an individual level?
Maintaining Health of Teeth and Gums
The majority of these missed appointments were the yearly or six-monthly dental check-ups and regular hygiene (teeth cleaning) appointments where oral and gum health is examined and maintained.
It is during these appointments that the early signs of bigger issues may be detected that could otherwise go unnoticed by the untrained eye. Signs of decay or erosion can be identified with a simple examination and Xray, but if left untreated can worsen leading to unmanageable pain and even tooth loss.
Gum problems are all-too common in the UK; most adults will develop some degree of gum disease during their life. In the early stage, this is known as Gingivitis, a condition that leads to bad breath and bleeding gums but, crucially, does not cause long term damage. However, the key to controlling gum disease is the maintenance of healthy gums, something that can only be done with the paired work of the individual (implementing proper cleaning of teeth at home) and the professional (keeping regular appointments with their hygienist for a deeper clean of the teeth and below the gums). Consistently missing appointments may allow gum disease to worsen and lead to more aggressive periodontitis. This condition can cause permanent damage such as the deterioration of the jawbone, making teeth become loose and potentially leading to tooth loss.
Major issues are entirely preventable if only people maintain regular appointments.
During the first lockdown in March 2020, it was not clear which industries could remain open and dentists were sadly prevented from treating patients, even for emergencies. This led to 25% off all UK households attempting some form of DIY dentistry to address gum pain and tooth decay – some even trying extractions at home!
Some people have learned to live with issues such as chipped or worn teeth but be warned that even minor chips or discoloration of teeth could mask deeper damage. Others may have become used to the gap left by their now missing teeth, something which can lead to more dental damage in the future.
What constitutes a “dental emergency” is entirely subjective, you do not need to be suffering from severe pain to substantiate seeing a dentist. Whether for pain relief or peace of mind, if you have any concern, speaking to your dentist or hygienist is never a bad thing.
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world and can be fatal – the latest research says that deaths from mouth cancer have increased by 22% compared with five years ago.
The statistics are worrying in part because it is a cancer that is often caught late, in many cases when it has spread to other areas. Early signs can be difficult to spot with the naked eye and in many instances there is no pain to accompany the initial onset.
Maintaining regular dental check-ups will greatly increase the likelihood that any signs of oral cancer are spotted early, making the prognosis far more optimistic. Research has shown that for those who had oral cancer discovered early on, the survival rate beyond five years was 80%. When it was discovered later, the survival rate fell to between 30 and 50% (the figure varying depending on how late the diagnosis was).
Your first dental examination at our practice, as well as routine checkups.
Out of Alignment
Missing dental appointments affects younger patients too.
For children, dental appointments are vital at every age to ensure teeth are developing as expected and that there are no emerging issues of decay, crowding or misaligned teeth.
As with most dental concerns, it is often easier and more effective to treat issues at the onset and an earlier age rather than later. By teenage years, teeth and bone are more fully formed and certain corrective options might no longer be possible without introducing other treatments.
Misalignment of teeth can also lead to speech impediments, headaches and jaw ache and even gastrointestinal problems caused by inefficient chewing of food.
Emerging Bad Habits
Regular dental and hygiene appointments also help instill good oral hygiene habits that are tailored to the individual. These tips and techniques help you to look after not only your own oral health in the best way possible when at home, but also to help your children and loved ones do the same. Children who attend routine dental appointments with their parents are less likely to be anxious when seeing dentists and look after their own oral health for years to come.
It’s easy to let oral health slip when pressures from lockdown, working from home, and home-schooling weigh on our shoulders. This is when bad habits start to form that are tricky to change.
Research shows that a poorly maintained mouth is making 2.1million people feel depressed and that it is affecting how people conduct themselves during social interactions – causing people to speak less, hide their smiles or even avoiding smiling altogether.
All of this exacerbated by the constant use of video calls during lockdowns and regularly looking at yourself during online meetings.
Studies have also found a strong link between gum disease and mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. Those suffering from mental illnesses also tend to avoid dental care, which places them in a very difficult circle of neglected oral health leading to further distress over their appearance.
Increased Likelihood of Emergency Appointments
A failure to attend regular check-ups increases the likelihood any patient will eventually require emergency dental treatment, for instance if they begin to suffer severe tooth pain linked to a cavity or abscess.
If you are worried about visiting a dental practice during Covid-19 lockdown, please click here to read about the steps we are taking to ensure the safety of patients and our team as well as the reviews of our patients who have visited us during this time.
We offer video calls and telephone advice, so please feel free to contact us with any questions.