Back to the dentist – new study highlights urgent need to tackle oral healthcare habits post COVID-19
The pandemic presents an opportunity to reset and improve our oral healthcare habits, but concerns around cost and virus transmission in dental practices and a lack of understanding of the wider impacts of poor oral healthcare must be tackled first
In advance of World Oral Health Day, a new consumer research study by GSK Consumer Healthcare and Ipsos reveals how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed oral healthcare habits for people in Europe and South-East Asia. 4,500 participants aged over 18 years old were surveyed from five European countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Russia) and four South-East Asian countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand). Key findings, which were gathered in February 2021, include:
COVID-19 heightened people’s worries about visiting a dentist in person
- Due to restrictions and aims to reduce COVID-19 transmission, 30% of respondents had visited a dentist less frequently during the pandemic.
- Encouragingly, the majority of respondents (64%) claimed they were likely to visit a dentist in the next six months. This is important because of the need for preventative measures to avoid the development of oral health problems.
- For some, the cost of dental consultation and treatment was cited as the top driver of concern among those worried about visiting a dentist in person (45% of this group). This was closely followed by concerns about COVID-19 transmission from dental equipment (43%).
- Across the study, cost was more of a concern for young people (49% for those aged 18-29 vs. 42% for those aged 50+).
The broader health implications of good oral healthcare routines were not widely understood by respondents, implying a global need for better health education
- While most respondents (85%) 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.
Oral healthcare routines have not improved to bridge the gap created by lower dental visits
- While some respondents (22%) claimed to brush their teeth more frequently, the majority had not changed their oral healthcare routines during the pandemic. In South East Asia an increase in brushing was more prevalent (37%).
- Young adults (18-29 year olds) claimed to brush their teeth more frequently (36% of this age group vs 22% average) than those of any other age.
- 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. Nearly one quarter of respondents (23%) claimed to use these toothpastes to manage their oral health conditions and 20% claimed that they will buy them more frequently in the future.
- The increase in fruit and vegetable intake by over one third of respondents is overall a positive trend to support health and wellbeing. However, research has suggested that it may unfortunately lead to a higher incidence of enamel erosion. In light of this, the increasing use of condition-specific toothpastes may be seen as an encouraging trend.
- The consumer research identified a positive trend of people changing their manual toothbrushes more frequently during the pandemic – with nearly one third (31%) of respondents saying they were doing this with the core aim of preventing the build-up of bacteria or germs on their toothbrush.
Of those respondents who claimed to be brushing their teeth more frequently since the start of the pandemic, the wearing of face masks was claimed as the key driver of this among European respondents, whereas the biggest driver among South-East Asian respondents was the decreased frequency of dentist visits
- One of the key drivers of increased brushing cited by all respondents was the wearing of face masks (37% across the regions surveyed), indicating people were more conscious of their breath. This trend was more prevalent amongst European respondents (44%), who generally were not used to wearing face masks before the pandemic.
- European respondents cited the top driver for brushing their teeth more as being more conscious of their breath (47% of respondents).
- The decreased frequency of dental visits during the pandemic was the biggest driver in changing oral healthcare habits in South-East Asia during this period.
Stephen Mason, Medical Lead, GSK Consumer Healthcare Oral Health, said, “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. 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 behaviour change.
“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. We recognise 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 utilised to their full extent, and we are committed to continuing and building on our work in this space.”
Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on health and wellbeing, disproportionately affecting oral health and access to care and increasing inequalities. 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. 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. Good oral health is a key component of good general health and wellbeing.”