The oral health of part of the Italian population is worsening as consequence of more than one year of healthcare access restrictions, procrastination, and waiver to dental care. At the same time, the market of aesthetic dentistry is rapidly growing.
Key-Stone’s researches have compared these phenomena, through the analysis of a sample of over 4,000 Italians who were interviewed in three different periods: before the total lock-down, after the most acute phase of the pandemic, and in the period following the vaccination campaign against Covid-19.
These surveys show a recovery of lost accesses, a greater attention paid to hygiene, aesthetics, and prevention, as well as an increase in the gap between patients who can afford dental care and those forced to undergo dental extraction.
The end of the state of emergency and the slow return to normal allow for an initial analysis of how much Covid has affected dental treatments and, consequently, Italians’ oral health. Key-Stone carries out at least once a year now studies on the population representing target patients going to Italian dental practices (average age between 20 and 75 years).
The recurrent nature of these analyses made it possible to study the time span from the end of 2019 – before Covid-19 pandemic – to the immediate post-lockdown and the period following the vaccination campaign. The results highlight a gradual return to normal, despite the awareness that the virus circulation is still high.
Thanks to a study carried out in collaboration with the Italian Society of Periodontology and Implantology, when the lockdown of spring 2020 took place there was a worsening of Italians’ oral health. In particular, gums and caries problems, as well as accidents related to prostheses and the impossibility of solving ruptures have emerged. This situation coincided with the reduction in the clinical activity of the practices, which were only able to take care of urgencies.
Post-lockdown: recovery of dental business
In the phase following the lockdown measures, there was a strong recovery in dental performance. The abrupt closure of the clinics had discontinued treatments being performed or planned in that period. Treatment plans with advance payments meant that professionals had liquidity to resume their activity with and were able to treat their already acquired patients.
The situation has currently stabilized, so some considerations can be made based on data analysis.
First of all, in light of the outcomes of the last research conducted in January 2022 on a sample of about 1,800 patients, there is an increase in oral hygiene sessions and check-up visits. These two activities together make up approximately 50% of the dental practices’ performance.
The reason for this data can be related to three main factors:
- Patients’ greater attention to oral health;
- Culture of prevention promoted by dental hygienists and dentists;
- Management of periodic recalls leading to greater patient loyalty to the clinic.
Moreover, it is necessary to focus on the data referring to carried-out treatments (caries and devitalizations) to note how almost the entire activity of the practice (87%) – in terms of number of treatment – is focused on prevention and small treatments.
Another interesting fact is the increase of treatments related to aesthetics, such as bleaching (+24% compared to 2018) and transparent aligners (+130% compared to 2018). It should also be considered that many patients see professional oral hygiene as aimed at aesthetics, rather than at prevention.
In addition to these findings, sales data referring to materials used for the “polishing“ after oral hygiene confirm the trend growth, registering a +16% compared to 2018 sales, with a significant increase precisely for “prophy powders” with a +30%, compared to 2018.
Problems affecting access to care
It is also interesting to point out – but this time with a negative meaning – the considerable increase in patients claiming to have undergone tooth extractions (+7%), compared to the pre-Covid period. These are mainly patients with low education level and belonging to a low-income social group. This data confirms the economic difficulties preventing part of the population to access oral care and rehabilitation, since the increase in extractions does not correspond to an increase in prosthesis, which remain rather stable, compared to the pre-Covid period.
Honestly, it is hard to predict the future of the sector.
The current geopolitical situation does not allow forecasts to be made. However, we can certainly say that the market has recovered to 2019 levels, the population go again to the dentist and the number of accesses lost during the period of total lockdown and post-lockdown – when patients were afraid to go to the dentist- are recovering.
Even on the economic front, the signs are not that bad. Despite the difficulties, workers seem to have saved their jobs; the pandemic and the collapse of consumption have made it possible to save money, which many people seem to want to invest in the improvement or restoration of their oral health.
Anyway, the data making us think the most refer to the reduction of almost 20% of access to dental offices during 2020, which – together with the procrastination of some treatments – has significantly worsened the average health condition of Italians. In particular, this happened for untreated inflammatory situations, such as gingivitis, which was reported by large part of those who have faced dental problems, with direct consequences on the increase of need for extractions and periodontal care in general.