GDC findings - The impacts of COVID-19 on oral health and dentistry

The GDC recently initiated a research and engagement programme to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on oral health and dentistry, particularly on the public and dental professionals. They have now published the first independent research report from this programme, which has been produced by Community Research and looks at the impact of COVID-19 on the public’s choices about their oral health during the first national lockdown and how they intend to access services in the near future.

Some notable findings from this report include:

  • The majority of those surveyed were aware that only urgent services were available during lockdown, however, a sizable minority were not. This suggests an ongoing need for the public and patients to be provided with clear information about the dental and oral health services and treatments that are now available, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and restrictions start to vary across the UK.
  • While some patients reported being nervous about returning to their dental practice, most were just as likely to visit their dentist now as they were before the pandemic. A higher proportion of respondents said that they would continue to seek care for fillings, root canal work, extractions and implants, check-ups and treatment for gum conditions, than was the case for cosmetic dentistry, or non-dental treatments (such as face fillers). 
  • Some patient groups are more concerned than others about visiting their dentist while COVID-19 risks persist. For instance, 70% of Black and 68% of Asian respondents agreed that they would not go to a dental practice unless they had an urgent issue, compared to 52% of White respondents, raising the potential for oral health inequalities to be exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • To reassure the public and patients that it is safe to visit dental practices, respondents suggested measures that dental practices should implement, including staff wearing PPE, providing clear information about COVID-19 control measures in place before an appointment, and ensuring extra cleaning and sanitation takes place before and after each appointment.

In addition to this report, views and insights have been gathered from key stakeholders and leaders in the sector through a series of events, and a further independent research has been commissioned to look at the effects of COVID-19 specifically on dental professionals. You can view all the GDC's latest publications from this research programme on a dedicated section of their website here: the impacts of COVID-19 on oral health and dentistry

The picture that is emerging is one where access to dental services has been severely limited and the time needed to recover them will be significant, where uncertainty continues about what services are available to the public and patients, and where some sections of the population are either unwilling or unable to access oral health care services.

The GDC believe the findings from their research, and more that is to follow, provides valuable insight for all in the sector to consider. They encourage you to read the full report COVID-19 and dentistry – survey of the UK public and visit their dedicated web page on the impact of COVID-19 and consider the findings in the context of your organisation’s work.