The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on every aspect of healthcare – including dentistry. Dental practices were closed except for emergencies during the peak of the pandemic in the spring and summer of 2020. Now as dental offices have reopened, there are numerous news reports about children who are going without preventive dental care because of their parents’ concerns about exposure to COVID-19. This represents a serious problem of its own, as postponing regular visits for dental care can have a negative impact on pediatric oral health, with lifelong consequences.
In addition, adults who remain wary about resuming dental care may actually be putting themselves at risk. Poor oral health is associated with numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Of course, issues such as decay and periodontal disease will only progress to the point where they become an emergency requiring extensive treatment that can result in tooth loss or even bone infection caused by an untreated abscessed tooth.
To answer our question upfront, it is safe for you and your child to go back to the dentist! NK Family Dental practices CDC-recommended environmental services protocols to ensure that common areas and examination rooms are sanitized and that appointments are scheduled to reduce waiting room occupancy. All of our staff members are fully vaccinated and use the appropriate personal protective equipment.
Are Parents Reluctant to Take Their Children Back to the Dentist?
However, it is important to directly address the concerns of parents to help them feel confident in resuming their child’s dental care. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health sheds light on the situation. The poll asked a national sample of parents about getting preventive dental care for their children ages 3-18 years during the pandemic. The results are as follow:
- Sixty percent of parents have tried to get preventive dental care for their child since the pandemic started. In most cases, parents say they got an appointment – 69% in the usual timeframe and 24% after a delay; 7% of parents say they were unable to get an appointment.
- Forty percent of parents have not tried to get preventive dental care for their child since the pandemic started. Among this group, most cite COVID-related reasons: 40% do not want to risk getting exposed, while 23% say the dentist’s office was closed or only seeing urgent patients.
- Other parents say they did not call for an appointment because their child was not due for dental care (23%) and/or was not having any dental problems (28%).
In an interview with CNN about the findings of the poll, pediatric dentist and American Dental Association (ADA) spokesperson Dr. Jonathan Shenkin said, “Delays in preventative care could result in kids developing more tooth decay. The problem with tooth decay is that when it starts in childhood, it’s really the strongest indicator of risk into adulthood.”
Despite fears about the transmission of Covid-19 in dental offices, infection control measures have proved effective in protecting patients and staff. According to a study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, infection rates among dentists have remained low – which means that parents can book pediatric dental appointments with confidence.
The American Association of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) recommends that children receive regular teeth cleaning and examination every six months, starting when their first tooth comes in. Regular dental check-ups provide a consistent opportunity for dentists to identify and treat tooth decay before it does too much damage, to apply protective treatments like sealants and fluoride varnish, and to educate parents and children about good dental hygiene.
Unfortunately, there remains a belief that dental care for children who still have only primary teeth is unimportant – or not as important as care for secondary (permanent) teeth – because “baby teeth” fall out anyway. Delaying or neglecting dental care for primary teeth can have detrimental long-term effects. Dr. Kim H. Nguyen, the owner of Mint Dental, Yorba Linda, CA, identifies these issues as follows:
Untreated cavities can result in early tooth loss, leaving prolonged empty spaces. This becomes a problem when the adult tooth is not ready to come through and occupy the space. The empty spaces will allow neighboring teeth to shift and naturally fill or take up the vacancies. This becomes a problem once the adult tooth is ready to erupt, as there will not be adequate space for the tooth and the adult tooth becomes misaligned. The misalignment of one tooth also impacts adjacent teeth as the mouth tries to adjust, creating a domino effect. Orthodontic treatment may be needed to correct the bite and alignment of the teeth.
Cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth. As the bacteria grows and multiplies, it will migrate below the gums, causing infection of the underlying adult tooth that is still in the development stage. This infection is called an abscess and is very painful for the child. Other problems include delay or prevention of the developing adult tooth from erupting, and extraction of the tooth is required. Even if the underlying adult tooth survives, it may be malformed, discolored, or permanently stained.
Some Good News About Oral Health Self-Care for Children
There was some good news in the poll cited earlier: Parents reported making changes to improve their child’s oral health habits during the pandemic, including more frequent brushing (16%), flossing (11%), and use of fluoride rinse (9%), and less drinking of sugary beverages (15%). Overall, 28% of parents reported their child has made at least one positive change, including more parents of children with Medicaid (37%) or no dental coverage (32%) compared to private dental insurance (24%).
Staying Healthy During the Pandemic
Good oral health plays a major role in maintaining good overall health. Adults and children need to visit the dentist at least twice a year for examination and cleaning. If you have concerns, ask your dentist about the safety protocols that his or her practice follows. As we’ve covered in this blog post, delaying care for yourself or your child can have serious consequences in many areas. It is safe to go back to the dentist!
Need a Chicago Dentist?
If you or your child – or both of you, or the entire family – is ready to resume regular dental care, our experienced, compassionate team at NK Family Dental is ready to welcome you! Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh, and our endodontist, Dr. Sabek. We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!