A new study from Japan published in the Journal of Dental Research looked at the effects of pandemic-related psychological distress on oral health-related behaviors. Worsened socioeconomic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in dental health, researchers found.
The group looked at data from the Japan COVID-19 and Society Internet Survey, which was conducted in August and September 2020. The aim was to understand how household income reduction, work reduction, and job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with dental pain.
"The present study investigated the association between worsened socioeconomic conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and dental pain in Japan," wrote the study authors, led by Dr. Yusuke Matsuyama, PhD, an assistant professor at Tokyo Medical and Dental University (J Dent Res, April 1, 2021).
The authors analyzed data from a survey sent to thousands of individuals representative of the Japanese population in terms of age, sex, and geographic area. Roughly 28,000 people responded, answering questions about dental pain, household income change, work reduction, and job loss during the pandemic. Respondents were also asked about psychological distress and health-related behaviors such as eating and teeth brushing.
Nearly one-quarter of respondents said their household income was reduced during the pandemic. Another 20% said their work was reduced, and about 1% said they experienced job loss.
In addition, nearly 10% of respondents said they experienced dental pain. Dental pain was significantly associated with household income reduction, work reduction, and job loss, according to the authors.
Dental pain was also significantly linked to worse oral hygiene behaviors. Reduced tooth brushing, eating more often between meals, postponing dental visits, and experiencing psychological distress were all factors that mediated the relationship between reduced household income and dental pain, the authors noted.
"Household income reduction was associated with dental pain via psychological distress," they wrote. "This is in line with a previous study reporting that higher anxiety and depression under the COVID-19 pandemic were more prevalent among those who lost their income."
The study had a few shortcomings. The relationships between the variables examined are not guaranteed and could be overstated, the authors cautioned.
In addition, self-reported information, such as in a survey, is not always accurate. More research is needed to look at the relationship between income and dental pain, the authors noted.
"The present study found that people whose socioeconomic conditions worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to report dental pain," they concluded. "Policies that mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic would prevent worsening dental diseases."