One in 10 adults in England who sought dental treatment or advice during the COVID-19 pandemic did not receive it, latest figures showed.
Just over a third (35%) of adults who responded to a survey said they needed care from a dental professional at some point between the start of the first lockdown in March 2020 and March the following year, according to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
Access to general dental services was suspended across the UK on 25 March 2020, and dental care hubs were established to deliver urgent treatment.
Surgeries started to reopen in England from June 2020 after infection prevention and control measures and a system of patient prioritisation was put in place. However, although some access to dental services was maintained during subsequent lockdowns, COVID-19 had longer term impacts on patient access due to a backlog, staff availability, physical distancing, and PPE requirements. Some of those problems remained in February and March 2021 when the survey, which involved 6343 responses from adults aged 16 years and over, was carried out.
Almost Half Said They Received Full Treatment
Of the patients who needed help during this period, 48% said they received full treatment from a dental health professional. Temporary treatment was reported by 15% of survey respondents, with the same proportion being given advice on self-management, while 11% said they had been given a prescription for antibiotics.
However, 10% said they did not receive any advice or treatment for their problem.
Further analysis showed that the most common reasons for needing treatment or advice were:
- A broken or decayed tooth (36%)
- Toothache or mouth pain (31%)
- Wanting a check-up (24%)
Bleeding or swollen gums, problems with dentures and braces, lost veneers, crowns, or bridges also featured prominently in the list.
Among patients who did not ask for help during this period in the pandemic, 23% said they were worried about being infected with SARS-CoV-2 or were shielding, 13% said they could not afford to pay for dental care, and 9% said the problem had got better by itself.
Women were slightly more likely than men to have needed treatment or advice, and the need for dental care increased with age, ranging from 22% of those aged between 16 and 24 years to 45% of those aged 75 years and older.
The survey results also showed that 56% of adults who reported 'bad' or 'very bad' oral health felt that they needed treatment or advice, compared with 42% of those with 'fair' oral health, and 30% who said that their oral health was 'good' or 'very good'.
No clear pattern of variations in treatment need were discernible when household income and neighbourhood deprivation was accounted for.
The survey was commissioned by Public Health England, now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
Respondents received a £10 Love2Shop gift voucher on completion.