It’s no secret that parents and experts alike worldwide are concerned about how life under the duress of COVID-19 is influencing (for better or – more talked about – worse) our children’s lives. We worry about the physical effects on their eyes and their brains from so much time in front of a computer or tablet screen when virtual school has caused such a significant up-tick in screen time. We worry about their behavioral development as our societies have turned very insular and social interactions are so limited if they occur at all. We worry about their mental health as more are subjected to internalizing major stresses in the home from food and job insecurity or the direct stress issues that come from parents managing so much all while everyone is in the home all the time.

Less talked about, although certainly a concern from all our staff at the four Utah Pediatric Dentists locations, is the impact the pandemic is having on children’s dental health.

Mott Poll Report on the Challenges to Children’s Oral Health Due to the Pandemic

In February 2021, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital released their findings of a report conducted to study the impact of COVID-19 on the dental health of children in the United States. The survey was conducted recently, in January 2021 to families with at least one child under 18 in their home. Some of these findings aren’t surprising. However, thankfully not all are negative, there were a few pleasant surprises as well. Here’s a thorough run-down of their findings directly from the source:

60% of parents surveyed reported they had at least attempted to get preventative dental care for their child since the onset of COVID-19.

  • 69% of those parents reported they were able to get an appointment in the usual timeframe.
  • 24% of those parents reported they were able to get an appointment, after a delay.
  • 7% of those parents reported they were unable to get an appointment.

Of the parents, unable to get an appointment, a small percentage of them did have private insurance (4%) or no coverage (5%) at all while a significantly higher percentage had Medicaid dental coverage (15%). 40% of parents reported they had not attempted to schedule preventative dental care for their child. When asked to give a reason most responses fell into one of the following four reasons:

  • 40% of the parents in this group gave the reason that they did not want to risk coronavirus exposure.
  • 23% of the parents in this group said their dental office was closed or only accepting patients with dental emergencies.
  • 23% of the parents in this group said their child wasn’t due for an appointment.
  • 28% reported their child didn’t have any dental issues.
  • 67% of parents surveyed reported that it felt safe to seek dental care for their child now.
  • 14% of parents surveyed reported that it felt unsafe.
  • 19% of parents surveyed reported that they were unsure if it was safe or not.
  • 33.33% of parents say the pandemic has been a barrier to getting preventative dental care.

Now for the pleasant surprises:

  • 28% of parents reported at least one change to the benefit of their child’s dental health.
  • 37% of this group of parents have Medicaid dental coverage.
  • 32% of this group of parents have zero dental coverage.
  • 24% of this group of parents have private dental insurance.

Of the positive changes reported:

  • 16% are brushing more often.
  • 11% are flossing more often.
  • 9% are using a fluoride rinse more often.
  • 15% are drinking sugary beverages less often.

While the survey doesn’t exactly give a pediatric dentist an overwhelming feeling of success, the positive changes that were reported in almost 1/3 of surveyed households are absolutely encouraging. We want to follow that feeling of encouragement and share it with the parents of our pediatric patients in our communities.

What You Can Do in Home to Combat Negative Dental Effects During the Pandemic

While our kids are spending more time at home, and less time in the actual classroom their access to food has become almost unlimited. The problem with unlimited access to food for kids is that it can result in grazing, which means snacking lightly but steadily over a long period of time. Grazing, simply stated, is bad for anyone’s dental health (not only kids) because it is a near-constant assault of sugars and acids on your teeth.

What Can You Do About It?

We’re not asking you to put locks on the pantry, fridge, and cabinets (although technically you could do that.) We’ve got a few simple things you can do to help reduce the grazing and reduce the damage snacking can cause.

  1. Create a meal and snack schedule for the household.
  2. Maximize the healthy snacks that are available such as crisp fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, carrots, celery. Nuts are also a great snack packed with protein. For more about teeth healthy snacks, check out this blog post.
  3. Minimize access to “junk” foods. If it’s not in the house, it’s so much easier to curb. Junk foods can be such a temptation, knowing there’s a bag of chips in the pantry just might be torture for your 14-year-old.

Safe access or perceived safe access to preventative dental health was another major concern in the Mott Report, and for that, we ask you to call us. We are open, we are taking precautions to protect ourselves, our staff, and our patients from contagion, and we want to see our pediatric patients!

If you’re a parent who is concerned about the safety of bringing your child in for a dental cleaning and checkup, let us know your concerns and we can tell you specifically about our biosecurity protocols. If you think your child doesn’t have a need for an appointment, nevertheless it’s been more than six months, it’s still time to schedule an appointment. Your child might not have any pressing dental needs right now, but an important part of prevention is dental cleanings every six months. Call us today and get your child scheduled for a cleaning.