CDA’s commitment to COVID-19 pandemic coverage for Canadian dentists continues with the latest data from the Abacus Data COVID-19 tracking survey.
The surveys were conducted between December 13 and December 21, 2021 and were based on a sample of 4,400 Canadians. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment and region.
New questions on access to care and child attendance at dental appointments were included in this wave of the tracking. Here are the key takeaways from the report:
The number of respondents who are not worried about COVID has been declining since June 2021. During the same time frame, there has been a steady increase in those who are extremely worried or are worried a lot. There is also a significant increase in those who assume that the worst is still to come (up to 37% from 11% in June 2021). This is likely a reflection of news coverage and exposure to information regarding Omicron.
People have been exposed to a lot of news coverage regarding the Omicron variant (90% of people have heard a lot or heard something). The public’s understanding of Omicron is that it is a more contagious and resilient strain of the virus. Consensus is that current vaccines are not as protective against Omicron as were against previous strains.
Other key messages that Canadians are hearing in the news media include: eligibility for booster shots, new more contagious variations of COVID-19 and stories about vaccine ineffectiveness against new COVID strains.
Appointments: The proportion of the general population who have not attended a dental visit since the pandemic began continues to shrink. As of December 2021, 32% of Canadians had not visited or consulted a dentist since March 2020, down from 34% in October 2021. More people are attending multiple appointments, with 47% of respondents having attended two or more appointments, up from 42% in October 2021.
Children: A new survey question on child attendance reveals that the level of child attendance at dental appointments is higher than in the adult population. Parents were more likely to bring their children to the dentist than visiting the dentist themselves. Children who were both eligible to be vaccinated and have been vaccinated were also more likely to have seen their dentist recently, compared to those who were unvaccinated.
Vaccinations: There is a direct relationship between vaccinations and dental visits, with patients who have received vaccine boosters attending their dentist more frequently. The further a patient is along their vaccination journey, the more likely they are to have consulted or visited a dentist.
Comfort levels with visiting a dentist have decreased, although 75% of respondents still indicated that they are comfortable (down from 77% in October 2021).
Concern over acquiring the COVID-19 virus at a dental appointment has increased (39% were concerned, up from 36% in October 2021.) However, this increase is not unique to dentistry and is in line with trends in many other public scenarios, such as taking public transit, visiting a hospital and shopping at a grocery store.
Despite the increase in concern and the decrease in comfort levels, compared to COVID-19 anxiety in general, there appears to be considerable resiliency with regards to attending a dental appointment. Many people who are clearly worried about the COVID-19 virus are still visiting their dentist.
There has been a small increase in the number of people who say they do not plan on seeing a dentist unless they absolutely need to. But overall, a similar proportion of people plan to go to their dentist in the next year as did in October 2021 (75%).
The proportion of people with dental benefits coverage has remained relatively consistent since October 2020. As of December 2021, 62% of people surveyed have some dental benefits coverage, with 8 out of 10 reporting the same benefits as before the pandemic.
Of those who have lost dental benefits, 50% have been to a dentist despite having no benefits, 25% plan to go in the near future and 22% do not plan to go in the near future.
Overall, the intention to see a dentist has moved independently of benefits rate.
Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Canadians reported that their dental visit habits were back to normal. Of those whose dental visit habits are not back to normal (32%), most are waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to improve in some way before they go back to the dental office – this includes the pandemic coming to an end, lowering of case numbers, everyone being vaccinated, safer protocols being in place, masks no longer needed, etc.