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Pandemic causing increase in stress-related oral health conditions

By Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International
April 19, 2021

CHICAGO, U.S.: A survey by the American Dental Association (ADA) has found that more patients have developed bruxism as a result of stress during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and that there is a general increase in stress-related oral health conditions. According to the association’s chief science officer, the trend means that routine dental check-ups have never been more important.

The latest monthly ADA Health Policy Institute survey of U.S. dentists found a significant increase in the reporting of stress-related dental problems. In the Feb. 15 survey, more than 70% of survey respondents said that more patients had bruxism—up from 60% in the survey undertaken by the institute in fall 2020.

The ADA said in a note to its members that 71% of respondents reported an increase in the incidence of bruxism and that other stress-related dental conditions had also increased. An increase in chipped and cracked teeth was reported by 63% of respondents, and 62% reported an increase in temporomandibular joint disorder symptoms.

Our polling has served as a barometer for pandemic stress affecting patients and communities seen through the eyes of dentists,” commented Dr. Marko Vujicic, chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute, in a press release. “The increase over time suggests stress-related conditions have become substantially more prevalent since the onset of COVID-19,” he added.

ADA Chief Science Officer Dr. Marcelo Araujo said that dentists are seeing more stress-related dental conditions as the pandemic continues. “It’s more important than ever for people to maintain their dental health, including seeing the dentist regularly to address any issues that could have long-term impact,” he commented.

U.S. dentists increase fees in response to financial challenges

Participants in the ADA survey were also asked about patient sentiment and other factors relating to the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on dental practice. The February survey found that average patient volume was around 81% compared with pre-pandemic levels and that staffing levels in dental clinics had almost completely recovered—respondents indicated that 99% of their dental teams were back at work.

Of the measures being taken to maintain financial stability, raising fees was the most common, and practice owners were also responding to financial difficulties by taking out loans, reducing working hours and changing suppliers. Fewer cost-saving measures were reported by dentists in larger group practices compared with those reported by solo practitioners.

Teledentistry was being practiced in some form by more than one-third of respondents, particularly to triage emergency cases and for postoperative and follow-up care consultations.

In March 2020, the association began surveying dentists regularly about the effects of the pandemic. It said that the February 2021 survey sample was nationally representative and that around 2,500 dentists had responded. The ADA has summarized the survey findings in webinars which are available on its YouTube channel.

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