Washington — The ADA is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to discuss how oral health has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during the next meeting of the agency’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
In a May 6 letter to Marcella Nunez-Smith, M.D., chair, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, D.M.D., said it is “critically important” that that the task force study how COVID-19 affected oral health for both children and adults.
“More data is needed, including on how race, income, type of dental insurance coverage and geographic location impacted oral health disparities,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin said. “Collecting and analyzing this information will help prevent future inequities.”
Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin told the task force that during the spring of 2020, the ADA recommended that dentists close their offices to all but urgent and emergency procedures in order to preserve personal protective equipment, which affected access to care.
They noted that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that there were 69% fewer dental services between March and May 2020 for children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program compared to the same time period in 2019.
“These children, who come from low-income families and/or have special health care needs, faced oral health disparities before the pandemic,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin said. “A lack of oral health care during COVID-19 exacerbated these disparities, as small and preventable problems became much more serious. Although the number of dental visits started to increase in July, it is still below prior years’ rates.”
The letter also pointed out that many of the issues the task force discussed during its April 30 meeting in regards to substance use disorders also apply to oral health, including the use of disaggregating data, oversampling among smaller populations in public health surveillance systems, better data collection on social determinants of health, making data more accessible, and more.
“The ADA looks forward to the task force holding an in-depth discussion on oral health similar to the one on substance use disorders,” the letter concluded.
Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts during COVID-19 at ADA.org/COVID19.