The COVID-19 pandemic has changed oral healthcare habits according to a study by GSK Consumer Healthcare and Ipsos of 4,500 people age 18 and older in France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and Russia as well as in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
For example, COVID-19 has heightened worries about visiting a dentist in person. Due to restrictions and aims to reduce virus transmission, 30% of respondents had visited a dentist less frequently during the pandemic.
However, 64% of respondents did say that they were likely to visit a dentist in the next six months. This is important because of the need for preventive measures to avoid the development of oral health problems, the researchers said.
The cost of dental consultation and treatment was the top concern for 45% of those respondents who were worried about visiting a dentist in person. Concerns about COVID-19 transmission from dental equipment was the top driver for 43%.
Across the study, cost was more of a concern for young people, at 49% of those between the ages of 18 and 29, compared to 42% for those age 50 and older.
The broader health implications of good oral healthcare routines weren’t widely understood by respondents, the researchers said, implying a global need for better health education.
While 85% of respondents said they believed good oral healthcare can benefit their overall health, many did not associate the consequences of poor oral health with broader serious health conditions.
Also, oral healthcare routines have not improved to bridge the gap created by fewer dental visits, the researchers said. While 22% claimed to brush their teeth more frequently, most had not changed their oral healthcare routines during the pandemic.
In Southeast Asia, 37% reported brushing more often. Also, 36% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said they were brushing more frequently, compared to 22% of respondents overall.
Some respondents said they were using condition-specific toothpastes to manage their oral health conditions, suggesting a growing awareness of the importance of choosing the right products to support and improve your oral health, the researchers said.
Nearly a quarter of respondents, 23%, claimed to use these toothpastes to manage their oral health conditions, and 20% said they will buy them more frequently in the future.
The increase in fruit and vegetable intake by over a third of respondents is a positive trend in supporting health and well-being, the researchers said, but it may lead to more enamel erosion. The increasing use of condition-specific toothpastes may be an encouraging trend, the researchers said.
Also, people are changing their manual toothbrushes more frequently during the pandemic, with 31% doing so with the core aim of preventing the buildup of bacteria or germs on their toothbrush.
Among the respondents who said they were brushing more frequently, the European respondents said they were doing so because they were wearing face masks, while the Southeast Asian respondents said they were doing so because of the decreased frequently of dental visits.
Overall, 37% of those who said they were brushing more because they were wearing face masks, indicating they were more conscious of their breath. This trend was more prevalent among European respondents, 44%, who generally weren’t used to wearing face masks before the pandemic.
Also, 47% of the European respondents who said they were brushing their teeth more were doing so because they were more conscious of their breath.
The decreased frequency of dental visits during the pandemic was the biggest driver in changing oral healthcare habits in Southeast Asia during this period.
“As the defining global health event of recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on all of our lives, especially when it comes to self-care,” said Stephen Mason, medical lead at GSK Consumer Healthcare Oral Health.
“Good oral healthcare practices are critical to overall physical and mental health, and dentists play a crucial role in the day to day oral health routines of individuals. It is encouraging to see that people continue to take action to look after their oral health at a time when good self-care practices have never been more important, but there is more work to do when it comes to encouraging widespread positive behavior change,” Mason said.
“At GSK Consumer Healthcare, we’re well-placed to help empower people to manage and enhance their oral healthcare routines through our therapeutic approach to oral health and our expert-recommended, scientifically backed brands,” Mason said.
“We recognize that there is a need for companies like ours to work with consumers and healthcare professionals to improve health education and ensure that dental healthcare professionals are being utilized to their full extent, and we are committed to continuing and building on our work in this space,” Mason said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on health and well-being, disproportionately affecting oral health and access to care and increasing inequalities,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.
“When oral care is neglected, and the opportunity to make early diagnosis of serious conditions such as mouth cancer is lost, the consequences can be immense. Prevention is the key to good oral health,” said Carter.
“It is important for people to return to regular dental visits as soon as possible. Your dental team can support you to maintain a good oral hygiene regime and to keep your mouth healthy,” Carter said. “Good oral health is a key component of good general health and well-being.”