The COVID-19 pandemic led to early restrictions on access to oral health care and social distancing requirements. The authors examined the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s oral health and access to oral health care in the United States.
Using nationally representative data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, the authors compared several measures of children’s oral health and oral health care use early during the pandemic in 2020 with 1 year earlier. Logistic (multinomial or binary) regression models were estimated, adjusting for several child and household covariates and state fixed effects. Similar comparisons were estimated for 2019 relative to 2018 to evaluate prepandemic trends.
Children in 2020 were 16% (relative risk ratio, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.75 to 0.93) less likely to have excellent dental health as perceived by parents and 75% (relative risk ratio, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.14 to 2.67) more likely to have poor dental health than in 2019. In addition, children in 2020 had higher risk of bleeding gingivae (odds ratio, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.16 to 1.85). The likelihood of having a dental visit in the past 12 months was 27% (odds ratio, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.65 to 0.82) lower in 2020, including lower likelihood for preventive visits. The differences between 2020 and 2019 were observed across demographic and socioeconomic subgroups. There were no such differences between 2019 and 2018.
There was a widespread decline in children’s oral health status and access to oral health care early during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prompt policies and oral health campaigns are needed to counter the pandemic effects and increase timely access to dental services.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2; access to oral health care; child dental health; health policy.