COVID-19 and DIY dentistry
Hawa Azhar discusses the impact the pandemic has had on DIY dentistry and explains how a dual approach to patient education can help debunk common dental care myths.
Dental therapist Hawa Azhar is not alone in seeing an increase in the number of patients attempting do-it-yourself (DIY) dentistry.
According to a report by the Association of Dental Groups, one in four households (25%) across the UK opted for at least one form of DIY dentistry during the first lockdown.
The pandemic has also seen sales of dental first-aid kits spike. They have nearly doubled in numbers as people took to all manners of home solutions to address their dental needs.
Indeed, the British Dental Association fears the backlog of appointments due to the COVID-19 disruption may have driven more people to opt for DIY home kits.
Around 20 million fewer dental treatments were carried out in 2020 than in 2019. Award-winning dental therapist Hawa, who practises at Market Street Dental Clinic in the Essex market town of Saffron Walden, is saddened by these latest figures.
She says: ‘Unfortunately, this has forced patients to take matters into their own hands. This has led to more people trying to fix their dental issues at home.’
‘DIY tooth whitening with kitchen cupboard items seems to be very popular. The high volume of “quick dental hack” videos on social media certainly hasn’t helped. Patients are unwittingly buying into dangerous practices. For example, brushing with lemon and bicarbonate of soda or using charcoal toothpaste for whiter teeth.
‘This misleading information is leading to irreversible damage caused by the erosive and abrasive ingredients, enamel wear and the discolouration of veneers and composite build-ups.’
‘Other patients have been supergluing crowns and mending their own broken dentures, which then don’t fit. Patients placing their own temporary fillings has also been common.’
Key oral health messages
So, how best to debunk these myths? Hawa believes nowhere are patients more accessible than on social media platforms.
She uses her Instagram page (@smilesbyhawa) to relay key oral health messages to her audience as well as showcase dental treatments.
For her, Instagram is a great way to access large numbers of the public. Whether they are patients interested and motivated to look after their teeth, or those tempted by DIY dentistry.
Hawa says: ‘Unfortunately, the internet is a place full of unregulated and unsolicited advice. It’s really important for us to debunk myths surrounding dentistry and alternative at-home methods.
‘It’s vital the profession continues to gain the trust of patients and the general public through means to which people can relate. Social media and other forms of communication outside of the dental setting can feel more relaxed and comfortable for people. In this way, they are probably more receptive to the advice we give.
‘Just recently I was carrying out some research for an upcoming video when I came across the website of a major retailer that was advising patients to rinse with mouthwash after brushing – as a profession, we need to be vigilant.’
She says online activity can raise awareness of accessibility, too. ‘Utilising this reach to relay the “we are open” message will instil confidence in patients, as well as hopefully deter people from taking matters into their own hands.’
But she’s quick to acknowledge that online posts have their limitations. ‘Obviously, these digital communications limit us but they do serve a purpose. I get lots of questions on social media, such as “what’s the best toothpaste to use?” or “what can I do to help stop sensitivity?” Both have simple general answers, but that may not work for everyone.
‘To be able to give the best advice, we have to know the individual situation – does the patient have any specific concerns they want to address or can we elicit what exactly is causing the sensitivity – which is why tailored face-to-face interaction with patients remains the gold standard of care.
‘By knowing a bit more, we can then give specific recommendations to help resolve individual issues. A Google or viral video response will only ever offer general advice, which can be counterproductive in some instances.’
Knowledge is power
When patients arrive for their appointments full of misguided and incorrect information, Hawa suggests that active listening is key.
‘It’s easy to jump to conclusions and cut a patient off when they start telling you all the things they’re doing wrong. Regardless of it being right or wrong, knowledge is power. Understanding the full picture about why a patient might be resorting to at-home hacks puts us in a better position to advise them correctly.
‘More importantly, patients can easily feel as though they are being talked down to or talked at. To avoid coming across as patronising or as if we are telling them off, it’s important to listen.’
She adds: ‘Along with reiterating the key oral health messages, nine times out of 10 I will advise the use of an electric toothbrush. Not that there is anything wrong with a manual toothbrush if it’s being done well with a good technique. My preference for myself and my patients is the range of Oral-B electric brushes.
‘It’s easy to show and explain to the patient using the Test Drive unit. There are often good offers available, which is also important to the patient.
‘Explaining the science behind any recommendations and oral health advice makes our messages more trustworthy and worth the investment. It is important not only for the patient but also the clinician to ensure treatment and advice is improving or stabilising a patient’s dental health.’
Keeping it simple
Of course, dental information in any form – online or in person – needs to be easily understood. Hawa always observes the ‘keeping it simple’ principle.
‘Dentistry really is another language. It’s second nature for clinicians to be quite technical in our explanations. It’s important to remember who we are explaining to. Speaking at a level that the patient can understand should also improve their compliance.
‘It’s important for us as a profession to keep the information clear and up to date for the general public. As the current climate continues to change so do the rules and regulations and they need clarity, too.’