Public attitudes on returning to dentistry post COVID-19 – the patients

Michael Heffernan discusses the effect of lockdown on patients' oral health – and what dental teams can do to helpMichael Heffernan discusses the effect of lockdown on patients’ oral health – and what dental teams can do to help. 

In our final article we discuss the impacts of lockdown on our patients and their dental health with insights from the recent survey by Dr Heff’s Remarkable Mint.

Key points from the survey were:

  1. 75% of adults are interested in learning how to improve their own dental health to prevent dental disease
  2. 83% say they take dental/oral health seriously
  3. A quarter of adults surveyed have brushed their teeth less often than normal during lockdown
  4. More than half have eaten more chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks (inc alcohol) during lockdown
  5. Due to concerns over the coronavirus twice as many patients would delay their routine dental appointments than attend.

From a national overview of dental expectations, this survey is uplifting. We see the public is interested in dental health and in learning how to improve their own dental health. This is a great answer as the question was specifically framed to take account of ownership of the disease. It is the individual’s problem.

Spike in snacking

Although the enthusiasm for dental care appears strong, the will appears less so – particularly in the confines of lockdown. There is evidence in our survey that people are snacking and drinking more sugary foods and erosive beverages. This data is supplemented by information on sales via shops showing 35% increases in sweets and 25% increase in soft drinks.

We can infer from this that our patients’ diets have slipped, possibly due to decreased choices in shops as distribution chains have struggled. The boredom factor often leads to an increase in snacking – as has been found in our house. This will inevitably result in greater risk of tooth caries and erosion, particularly in polypharmacy/xerostomic patients with decreased saliva.

I, like many dentists, sent out information to our patients on how to look after their teeth during the pandemic. We will need to determine when we see our patients whether the information was in a format to change habits or if too many other concerns overtook their dental health. It would certainly be worthwhile reviewing your CPD to include latest approaches to caries and erosion.

Tighter finances

The largest risk of missing three months of dentistry will be to the periodontally-susceptible group of patients as decreased oral hygiene and lack of maintenance from the dental team will no doubt have caused progression of disease. It is these patients that will need to be prioritised for review with hygienists. Virtual consults will not indicate bleeding scores and pocket depths.

As we have indicated in the earlier articles, there are concerns that as finances become tighter and dental costs escalate, more patients will be put off attending dentists and hygienists. This might be a good time to review how your patients pay for their dentistry.

Should we continue with fee per item of service? Or should we consider an alternative approach that would allow more regular revenue streams as well as provide all the preventative/motivational benefits of regular hygienist care within a capitation scheme? Alternatively should we be looking at other payment plan options to allow patients to fund their dentistry over longer periods with credit?

Dental practice is no doubt going to change. My aim is to bring enthusiasm and knowledge that I have garnered from all the CPD webinars over lockdown. I intend to change how I do dentistry for the greater satisfaction of my patients and myself.

If you wish to see more of the Dr Heff’s survey please visit www.drheffs.com. You can also offer your patients a new simple way to help their daily oral hygiene regime, which the public are very much in favour.


GSK

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