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Dr Ben Atkins: Will COVID-19 widen the oral health gap?

28 July 2020

President of the Oral Health Foundation and Wrigley’s Ambassador Dr Ben Atkins considers the need to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t widen the current oral health gap in his recent exclusive for Density Online.

With dental practises beginning to re-open after several months of closure alongside changes in our routines and eating habits during lockdown, Dr Atkins writes that “having a conversation about oral health is now more important than ever” with this difficult period we face as a nation having emphasised the importance of a smile:

“A smile shows others – from the postman and our neighbours to friends and family – that we are here for each other. When we cannot hug or shake hands, a smile becomes our main tool to connect with others.”

Pointing to the regional variation in oral health outcomes, underlined by socio-economic factors, he emphasises the need to ensure that the oral health of those from the most deprived backgrounds is not exacerbated further by the current crisis.

Referencing a recent Oral Health Foundation survey which found that those from lower-income households were less likely to use dental floss, mouthwash or sugarfree gum, or be aware of their clinical benefits, he identities levelling up patient education as a crucial step in addressing this oral health gap. Dr Atkins concludes:

Ensuring we all know how to best keep our mouths healthy is a good first step in closing the oral health gap. This year’s National Smile Month made some great progress in reaching out to those groups where oral disease is far too common. Activities like the Great British Brushathon and oral health home schooling helped to improve dental education amongst disadvantaged communities. But there is still much to do!

Maintaining a healthy smile can be really simple, and it plays a key role in supporting an individual’s broader physical and mental wellbeing. But we know that for many this isn’t the case. Where you were born or how much your family earns should not determine your risk of dental disease. It’s essential that we do more to support those from the most vulnerable and deprived communities. Everyone’s lives have changed to some degree due to the current pandemic. But we must ensure that oral health does not take a back seat – we need to level up the country’s oral health.”

Read the full piece from Dr Atkins here.

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