Lucia: Good news — preventative dental appointments made a comeback in 2021 | Columnists

More than two years after COVID-19 became a part of our lives, we are still learning about how it has impacted our daily routines, including how we care for our oral health.

In May 2021, Delta Dental of Virginia conducted a statewide survey and found that 35% of Virginia respondents felt hesitant to return to the dentist and more than half reported postponing or missing dental visits entirely in 2020. Those findings were significant, given the health implications that could result from postponing preventive dental appointments, such as regular cleanings.

The good news is that results from a recent nationwide analysis of consumer opinions and behaviors relating to oral health indicate a renewed focus on health and a return to preventive oral health care. The Delta Dental-commissioned research of U.S. adults and parents of children ages 12 and younger revealed what respondents thought about their oral health and what they did to properly care for it at home and with their dentist during 2021.

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Delta Dental’s 2022 State of America’s Oral Health and Wellness Report is based upon Delta Dental-commissioned research conducted between Jan. 19 and Jan. 28, 2022, by Material, a global insights and strategy consultancy, using an email invitation and online surveys to two audiences recruited through an opt-in panel: 1,172 parents of children ages 12 and younger/1,027 nationally representative Americans ages 18+. Quotas were set to ensure a reliable and accurate representation of the U.S. population of adults and parents with children ages 12 and younger. The report has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

The 2022 report showed significantly more adults and children prioritized preventive visits with their dentist in 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic. In fact, the data show a return to the dentist’s chair is upon us. Most children (89%) and adults (72%) went to the dentist in 2021, and significantly more children visited their dentist for preventive reasons in 2021 (92%) than the year before (81% in 2020). Nearly all (94%) of adults plan to visit the dentist this year.

Nearly all U.S. adults (92%) and parents (96%) surveyed indicate they consider oral health to be very or extremely important to overall health. However, the findings also showed that many people remain unaware of how oral health and overall health are connected, as a significant number of people were unable to recognize the medical conditions that are linked to poor oral health, including strokes (38%), high blood pressure (37%) and diabetes (36%). While survey respondents had a difficult time identifying specific medical conditions, nine in 10 adults surveyed were interested in learning more.

The World Health Organization estimates that oral diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people, with untreated dental caries (tooth decay) representing the most common health condition worldwide. We continue to see mounting evidence of the association between gum disease and diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health conditions. Considering these potentially devastating impacts of poor oral health habits, it is clear why Delta Dental increased nationwide community investments in 2021 to $106 million. The boosted investment positively impacted more than 21.3 million lives through programs to expand access to care, advance health equity, build resilient communities and innovate for a healthier tomorrow. In Virginia, the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation impacted the lives of more than 47,300 individuals through its focus on oral health education and support for safety-net clinics throughout the Commonwealth.

COVID-19 may have disrupted the predictability of our preventative dental care, but it couldn’t stop it. Thankfully, people are returning to the dentist, and that’s good news.

Lucia is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Virginia.

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