Children’s Dentistry: Dental Care Must Continue Despite The Pandemic

Most kids don’t like a trip to the dentist. Most adults don’t like a trip to the dentist. And the global pandemic that the world has been learning to navigate since the final months of 2019, is making children’s oral health and dental care more curly than a Dr Seuss character’s tail.

The gold standard of paediatric dentistry always, is the prevention of poor oral health in children. Even moreso in these now pandemic times, of what was declared firstly, a Public Health Emergency in January 2020. Oral health has been a victim of Covid-19.

Adequate management of oral health in children is crucially important during an epidemic and its periods of lock-down. That’s all further complicated by having to personally learn what represents an  emergency, given that even a mouth ulcer is painful but will disappear in a day or two. For many of us a trip saved to the dentist is an expense rather avoided. Turn the heat up on all that by the parent or guardian responsibility to start knowing the difference in oral tenderness or discomfort in a growing, ergo changing, mouth. A first child.

A toddler. A kid not old enough to be able to articulate what hurts in their mouth.

And then try telling that parent or guardian holding a screaming and distressed child that there is the sanctioned implementation of specific protocols for what does not, and what does fall within the category of a child dental emergency.

Those last three words are chilling in themselves. Even were there two paediatric dentists in a 24-hour fully equipped surgery for every child on earth never further than ten metres from where any child is playing, sleeping, or just being, they are not three words that should ever be together. Whichever order in which you might want to put them. We’ll make sure our kids can get Macca’s so easily.

It’s a pity we’re not becoming much more innovative in our thinking of the things that children need.

Optimum oral health is most certainly one of those things. With good gut health proven to drive this biological machine, strong straight teeth and a healthy mouth are the very beginning of that process and maintenance of ongoing, better health. Research has shown that it is the healthy food eaten as a child that sets an adult up for life.  Had we been undernourished or nutritionally depleted over our growth years, from our early 20s we can then eat only the cleanest, slowest, most seasonal, plant-based diet  –  and without taking away the validity of that as a valid life choice  –  the set-for-life general health switch has been already set.

A published new study by the University of Melbourne highlights the impact on already vulnerable children in Australia, already experiencing higher levels of serious dental issues, the pandemic has on providing this much-needed dental care. Its research revealed 881,454 fewer services were provided in 2019 than 2020.

Restrictions imposed on dentists effectively shut practices down from late March through to April, and again from July to September. During these periods part of those constraints was to provide emergency dental care only.

It’s challenging enough adhering to the necessarily rigorous infection control protocols for every dental environment directly affected by COVID‐19 outbreaks; and it’s more than essential to take the expertise of paediatric dentists to communities that now, whether by distance or instance, are remote.

Dentists now post more information and detail regarding the dynamics of children’s oral health. Tooth brushing tips and easily accessed information focusses on the very things you can do to maintain the dental health of your kids during the pandemic.

So there are challenges. And they can seem rather overwhelming. There is always our part to do, which in this case is everything that’s not happening in the dentist’s chair. The quality and types of food. Regular and age-appropriate overseeing of a child’s toothbrush techniques. Not making a chore that they happily avoid.

There are many children’s dentists with a reputation for friendly gentle approach. You want your kid to not be phased by a trip to the dentist. I think most adults would welcome a free trip to the dentist just for the ‘free’ part.