The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the UK’s oral health, according to the findings of new research.

An investigation by the Oral Health Foundation and Colgate shows that over half (55%) of British adults feel they have neglected their teeth during lockdown.

Around one-in-six (15%) admit to not brushing their teeth as much as before the pandemic while almost one-in-five (19%) say they haven’t been brushing their teeth twice a day.

According to the research, lockdown has also fuelled unhealthy eating and drinking habits.  One-in-five (20%) adults are now eating unhealthier foods and more than one-in-ten (11%) have been drinking more alcohol.

Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Nigel Carter OBE, highlights the importance of prioritising your oral health.

Dr Carter says: “Since coronavirus, it has been easy to get into the mindset that your health is not completely within your control.  There are, however, elements of your health that you do have full authority over.  One of these is the health of the mouth.     

“Good oral health is completely in your own hands.  All it takes is the correct care.  By adopting a few simple habits, you can prevent oral diseases like tooth decay, that sadly remain far too common.

“Knowing that less people are brushing twice a day is disastrous for oral health, as along with consuming less sugar, it is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay.  Brushing last thing at night and at one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste takes four minutes out of the day – an important and proactive step for self-care and something to prioritise.”

The research shows that almost one-in-five (18%) have not seen a dentist for over two years, not just because of lockdown.

Meanwhile, more than one-in-three (36%) have reported toothache during COVID-19, with nearly one-in-ten (9%) experiencing the pain for longer than two weeks.

To remedy this, a concerning number of people are going online to find solutions to fix their own dental problems.  The findings show almost one-in-four (24%) have been online to fix oral health problems at home.

“DIY home dentistry is a terrible idea and should be avoided at all costs,” adds Dr Carter. “Home treatments in untrained hands often comprise of shortcuts that come with added dangers and can lead to permanent damage to your health.

“If you are experiencing any problems with your mouth, like toothache, the best thing you can do is book an appointment with your dentist.  Your dental team can spot diseases like tooth decay in the early stages and treat it before it gets worse, when you might need a filling or have the tooth taken out.

“Having been closed at the beginning of the pandemic and dealing with a backlog of patients in the months that followed, most dental practices are now back to relative normality.  You should be able to get an appointment.  If you think you have been neglecting your oral health lately, or haven’t been to the dentist in a while, my advice is to go and book yourself in for a check-up.”

New data shows more than 30 million adults in the UK have one or more fillings – an indicator of the prevalence of tooth decay in the UK.  Analysis of the data suggests that as much as 84% of the population could be at increased risk of tooth decay.

Poor oral hygiene, high carbohydrate diets and infrequent dental visits all increase a person’s risk of tooth decay.  Risk also increases with age, diabetes, dry mouth, or while having orthodontic treatment.

The charity fears that an increase in untreated tooth decay could lead to a sharp rise in the number of people having costly extractions.

With the support of Colgate, the charity has launched The Truth About Tooth Decay – a new online hub all about learning how to identify your risk of tooth decay and how to spot the early warning signs.  The campaign also give advice for preventing or managing the condition. 

Scientific Affairs Project Manager at Colgate Emanuele Cotroneo, highlights the importance of the new online resource.

Dr Cotroneo says: “As leader in oral care, Colgate has a fundamental role to play in improving people's oral health.  Colgate exerts this role by means of technological innovations and by partnering with the dental profession in ways that help them to meet the needs of their patients.

“The collaboration with the Oral Health Foundation is an example of Colgate’s commitment to its role in improving oral health. It is clear from this survey that these challenging times have affected the oral health habits of the UK population.

“Colgate reinforces the message from the Oral Health Foundation that oral health should not be neglected as it is a crucial part of your wellbeing and tightly linked with overall health.”

The Truth About Tooth Decay can be found at www.dentalhealth.org/thetruthabouttoothdecay.