Attitudes about returning to the dentist during the pandemic continue to vary, according to the United Kingdom’s General Dental Council (GDC). According to its latest survey, 61% of people feel just as confident about visiting the dentist as they did before the pandemic, while 32% feel less safe.
During the lockdown, which began on March 23, only urgent or emergency dental care was available via regional hubs and centers. A third of respondents said they had an appointment cancelled or postponed during this first stage. Dental practices began to reopen on June 8 in England, June 22 in Scotland and Wales, and June 29 in Northern Ireland.
Of the 23% of respondents who reported experiencing pain or other dental problems during the lockdown, 51% preferred to wait for the lockdown to end before seeking treatment or wait for the issue to go away, as they felt it wasn’t urgent. Also, 35% sought professional help, while 14% decided to self-treat.
Most of those surveyed were aware that only urgent services were available during the lockdown, but 30% did not know. Patients were most likely to seek this type of information directly from their dental practice, but many people aren’t registered with a practice.
This suggests a need for the public and patients to have clear communication about services and treatments that are available, particularly as the pandemic continues and restrictions start to change rapidly across the UK, the GDC said.
Patients also were most likely to say that they would continue to seek care for fillings, root canal work, extractions and implants, checkups, and treatment for gum conditions. But about a quarter of those polled said they would be a lot less likely to get cosmetic dentistry or non-dental treatments such as face fillers.
Dental practices could reassure patients that it is safe to visit them by providing clear information about infection control measures in place and by ensuring that extra cleaning and sanitation takes place before and after each appointment, the GDC said.
But some patient groups have greater concerns than others about visiting dental practices during the pandemic, the GDC said, which could exacerbate existing oral health inequalities. For instance, 70% of Black and 68% of Asian respondents said they would not go to a dental practice unless they had an urgent issue, compared to 52% of White respondents.
Also, the proportions of people who said they would be less likely to visit the dentist for treatment was also generally higher among people with physical or mental health conditions and among people who said they felt less safe when visiting a dental practice.
“The dental profession has worked tirelessly to support patients through the extraordinary difficulties resulting from this crisis,” said Stefan Czerniawski, executive director, strategy, and the GDC.
“The challenge for all of us now is to ensure that patients feel confident in being able to access the dental treatment they need, and it’s important that they continue to hear clear messages that it is safe to return,” Czerniawski said.
The GDC commissioned the survey to explore the impact of COVID-19 in relation to public safety, confidence in dentistry, and the patient’s and public’s choices about their dental health. It’s part of a wider research and engagement program to understand the impact and implications of COVID-19 for dental regulation and business planning.