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The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging on strong for just over a year, and many areas of the healthcare industry have become overwhelmed, backed up, or been put on the back burner to accommodate all the ill patients. Things such as elective surgeries, minor health care needs, and mental health services have all been placed lower on the priority list than they usually are because of the virus's spread.
Oral health has also suffered negatively from the pandemic. With lockdowns and non-essential health care procedures being pushed aside in the name of safety measures and slowing transmission, those that may have been due for regular check-ups or in need of minor dental procedures were unable to receive that type of care.
Hard Hit Areas And Oral Health DiseaseSome areas in the world have been affected by the global pandemic more than others. The United States, where there have been over 31 million cases to date, was among the countries hit hardest by the virus. In contrast, places such as Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia have all seen markedly lower cases.
Differences in the management of the virus and population density all played a role in how the pandemic thrived in each area. Research has shown that in the United States, areas of the country most affected by COVID-19 were also areas that have been at higher risk for oral diseases.
This correlation is likely due to unexpected circumstances such as reduced hours and, in some cases, full dental office closures, the placing of limits on providing oral health care unless in an emergency, and the limited provision of or complete elimination of preventative care services. Since many dental procedures, even routine cleanings, generate aerosols that can lead to an increase in viral transmission, dentistry procedures were put on hold to avoid community spread in areas where it had already gotten out of control.
The Oral Health Decline Driven By COVID-19The demographics that have suffered the most during the pandemic regarding both the virus and an increased risk of developing oral diseases include minority groups, those in low socioeconomic groups, older adults, those without insurance, and those in rural areas. Otherwise healthy individuals outside of this demographic have suffered a decline in oral health too.
Research from Wuhan has shown that oral health decline has hit the population in the area hard because of the inability to receive routine dental care over the last year. Compared to other regions of China, Wuhan had less access to dental care, meaning people were more likely to experience common oral problems such as gingival bleeding, bad breath, and oral ulcers.
There has also been an increase in oral-related issues that stem from stress or anxiety caused by the pandemic. Dental professionals have noticed that the incidence rate of cracked or damaged teeth since the onset of the pandemic has risen significantly. This is likely due to teeth-grinding and jaw-clenching, both actions linked by the onset of severe or significant psychological stress. Other reports of cracked molars and damaged fillings that caused abscesses have also been seen by many dentists. The likely reason being stress combined with a lack of access to and maintenance of oral care.
Poor Oral Health And COVID-19 PrevalenceWhen examining the link between COVID-19 patients and oral diseases, it is clear that without adequate dental care, those with already existing oral health issues were more at risk of developing a severe case of the viral infection than those with healthy mouths.
In considering the connection between the two and the lack of access to oral health care during the pandemic, it is possible to conclude that having a better route to preventing and improving oral disease could also positively affect patients with COVID-19. More research into the matter is required to verify this conclusion, though.
Is There A Way Out Of The Dental Health Decline?
If bad oral health can cause the viral infection to worsen in some people and the pandemic itself is causing oral health to deteriorate, many people and dental professionals find themselves in a catch 22 situation. The only way out is to ensure that patients are aware of just how important oral health is and what they can do at home to keep it up to par while everyone rides out the remaining time of the global pandemic.
 "Oral Health and COVID-19: Increasing the Need for ... - CDC." https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2020/20_0266.htm. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.
 "Impact of COVID-19 on the oral health of adults in ... - BMC Oral Health." 26 Mar. 2021, https://bmcoralhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12903-021-01533-z. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.
 "Dentists say they're seeing more cracked teeth due to pandemic ...." 8 Sep. 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/teeth-are-taking-a-beating-dentists-say-cracked-teeth-are-more-common-post-lockdown-1.5096518. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.
 "Association between periodontitis and ...." https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpe.13435. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.