Dental Health

The Pandemic Was Bad for Our Teeth. Will It Change Oral Health Forever?

The Pandemic Was Bad for Our Teeth. Will It Change Oral Health Forever? Studies Show The rise of teledentistry and other alternatives have the potential to fix some of the disparities in care. Credit... Ori Toor May 19, 2021 There are early indications that the pandemic is taking a serious, and potentially long-lasting, toll on our oral health. In September, even before the winter coronavirus surge in the United States, an American Dental Association survey found that more than half of the dentists who responded were seeing an increase in stress-related conditions among patients. These included teeth grinding, cracked and chipped teeth and symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, like jaw pain. More than a quarter of the dentists reported an increase in cavities and gum disease — quite likely a result of changes in people’s diets and hygiene.

Americans have also had difficulty accessing dental care: A report last month by the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, found that six million adults had lost their dental insurance because of the pandemic, and more than one in 10 had delayed getting care because of cost, lack of insurance, fear of exposure to the virus or a combination of those factors. A major challenge for providers is that routine dental procedures generate aerosols, which increase the risk of viral transmission.

How much is unclear. (“There are currently no data available to assess the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission during dental practice,” according to the C.D.C., which offers guidance for dental settings on its website.) As precautions, many clinics have added space and time between appointments, reducing the number of patients they can see. That and other issues have worsened longstanding disparities in who receives oral health care: By mid-April, almost 60 percent of private practices were operating at full capacity, compared with roughly 35 percent of their public counterparts, according to A.D.A. polling. Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.