Since the onset of COVID-19, the use of teledentistry, digital communications, and online self-service tools has increased among dentists to provide care. However, about 40% of adults say that they or their child experienced a dental issue that would otherwise have prompted a dental visit, according to a survey from the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
The Dental Benefits 2020 Workplace Benefits Study also revealed that nearly three in 10 respondents are more anxious about visiting the dentist since the coronavirus outbreak. However, the survey found, three out of four adults will be comfortable going to the dentist by the end of 2020.
“The good news is that oral health remains important to eight in 10 US adults. To that point, patients are placing an even greater importance on their children’s oral health than their own,” said Dr. Randi Tillman, chief dental officer at Guardian Life.
“But as we’ve seen in prior years, those who have dental benefits through work are more than twice as likely to receive regular dental care compared to those without dental benefits (58% versus 25%),” Tillman said.
Also, one out of five adults have used teledentistry for themselves or a child during the pandemic, with many having a favorable experience. Most adults are unaware if their provider offers teledentistry services or how they would access such services during the pandemic, though. Many are uncertain if teledentistry is covered by their dental plan as well.
Nonetheless, more than a third of all adults would be open to trying teledentistry and even favor the option over traditional in-person visits for certain conditions and situations. Parents are more likely to use teledentistry for a child than for themselves, both during and after the pandemic, while millennials also favored using it.
The ADA currently recommends dental visits at least once every six months. But even before the pandemic, only 45% of adults reported receiving semi-annual exams, with only seven in 10 seeing the dentist at least once a year.
Fortunately, Guardian Life said, of the one out of five adults who said they changed their oral health habits during the pandemic, it was for the positive. Many reported increased flossing, brushing more frequently and thoroughly, and eating a healthier diet such as consuming fewer sweets.
Given the restricted access to preventive care during the first half of 2020, Guardian Life said, many patients are anxious to schedule exams and cleanings in the second half. Many patients also said they anticipate returning to the dentist as soon as September. Universally among respondents, increased safety precautions are desired to reduce anxiety for in-person visits.
“Our findings validate that more than one in three patients say communicating an office’s safety measures is important to them,” said Stu Shaw, vice president, core market and dental leader, at Guardian Life. “Not surprisingly, adults ranked dentists and staff wearing personal protective equipment as the top factor that would help them feel comfortable and safe.”
As dental offices have reopened, they have had had to implement new safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, incurring more expenses. To help offset these expenses, Guardian Life said it will provide relief for these costs for its network dentists. Providers must enroll in the new program by September 15.