14% of parents don't think it's safe to go to the dentist

By Theresa Pablos, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

February 16, 2021 -- A total of 14% of parents don't think it's safe for their child to go to the dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey of 1,882 parents. In addition, 40% haven't tried to get preventive dental care for their children since the start of the pandemic.

The survey was conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at Michigan Medicine in January to get a better sense of how the pandemic is affecting oral health. The findings highlight the importance of dental professionals sending appointment reminders and telling patients about changes to make practices safer during the pandemic, noted survey co-director Sarah Clark, MPH.

"It may be helpful for dental providers to be proactive in reminding parents about the importance of regular dental check-ups for children," Clark stated in a press release.

Parents reported improvements in their child
Parents reported improvements in their child's oral health habits during the pandemic. Image courtesy of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine.

The National Poll on Children's Health asked parents of children ages 3 to 18 years about their oral healthcare experiences during the pandemic. About two-thirds of parents felt it was safe for their child to get preventive care right now. In contrast, 19% felt unsure and 14% felt it was unsafe.

A total of 40% of respondents had not tried to get preventive care for their children since the pandemic started. Out of these parents, 40% didn't want to risk exposing their child to COVID-19. However, 28% said they didn't make an appointment because their child was not having dental problems.

For the 60% of parents who tried to make a preventive dental appointment, getting care was not always easy. One-third of all parents said COVID-19 has made it harder for their child to get preventive care, and 24% of parents experienced a delay when making the appointment.

Even worse, 7% of parents said they tried to get preventive dental care for their child but were unable to do so. This occurred more frequently among parents with Medicaid (15%) than private dental insurance (4%) or no insurance (5%).

"Our findings highlight how the pandemic may have disrupted families' dental care and exasperated potential disparities among those with insurance barriers," Clark stated.

The survey findings did include some good news. More than one-quarter of parents said their child has made at least one positive oral health change since the start of the pandemic. The positive changes included brushing and flossing more often and drinking fewer sugary drinks.

"We were pleased to find parents describing positive changes in how their children are taking care of their teeth at home," Clark noted. "Daily brushing and flossing and avoiding sugary drinks are important ways to prevent tooth decay.


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