The general public doesn’t know very much about dental caries, according to a survey by Colgate-Palmolive and the Oral Health Foundation (OHF), which is calling on dental professionals to raise awareness among patients to improve oral health.
Dental caries is one of the most chronic diseases in the world and affects about 2.3 billion people, the OHF said. In the United Kingdom, just under one in three adults suffers from caries, a problem that the OHF said has become worse during the pandemic.
Yet many people are unaware of the circumstances that could lead them to be at higher risk of developing dental caries or how they can prevent the disease from occurring, the OHF said.
For example, 33% of survey respondents were unable to identify “brushing teeth” as an action that could prevent dental caries.
Also, 54% did not associate “regular dental appointments” with lower caries risk, and 26% did not know that “high carbohydrate” diets could be responsible for higher caries risk.
There was a lack of awareness about other major risk factors including older age, drying mouth, and a history of oral health restorations as well.
Dr. Emanuele Cotroneo, scientific affairs project manager at Colgate, is concerned that without a good basic understanding of the risk factors of tooth decay, many people will struggle to take control of their oral health.
“What this new survey data shows is a clear need for education amongst patients,” she said. “Patients could be missing out on simple but really effective ways to minimize their risk of developing dental caries but are simply unaware of how their lifestyle choices are impacting their oral health.”
The survey is part of the OHF’s “The Truth About Tooth Decay” online hub created with Colgate-Palmolive. The platform hosts educational material for patients about dental caries as well as a dedicated area for dental professionals with tips and tools for educating patients about the symptoms and risk factors of dental caries.
Also, the survey revealed that people between the ages of 18 and 24 have the weakest knowledge when it comes to dental caries. For instance, 24% failed to highlight “brushing your teeth” as an effective way to prevent caries, compared to 4% of those age 55 and older.
Younger adults also were far less likely to know that fluoride prevents caries, with only 23% of 18- to 24-year-olds thinking that fluoride can be used as an effective way to prevent dental caries, which is significantly less than those over the age of 55.
But while young people seem the least knowledgeable when it comes to dental caries, 63% said they would like to receive oral health information in between appointments, with 65% preferring email for receiving this information.
OHF president Dr. Ben Atkins believes the results of the survey highlight a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“Certainly when it comes to caries, it is clear from this research that more work needs to be done to educate younger adults, both regarding prevention and what is likely to put them at higher risk,” said Atkins.
“Despite this, it is encouraging that most young people are keen to learn more about this area of their health and well-being. It presents dental professionals with a tremendous opportunity to engage with this audience, who we know are more likely to skip brushing and regular dental visits,” said Atkins.
“Dental professionals are in a great position to help patients of all ages better understand their oral health. This education can not only be done in the dental chair. It can also be done digitally on social media and through e-communications,” he said.
“The latter has become increasingly important given the restrictions from the pandemic. Digital learning is likely to play a key role in delivering the prevention aspects of the new dental contract,” he said.