Find out about healthcare delayed by the pandemic |

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit its strongest in 2020, many Americans stayed at home. Excursions were limited, including regular check-ups with the doctor.

Connie King was among those who put off routine health care. Not only did the retired nurse skip her six-month dental cleanings at the dentist, but she also skipped her annual visits to the OBGYN and her GP.

“As a former nurse, I could only imagine what medical workers were involved with,” King said. “I figured I wouldn’t get bogged down in the system with my simple office visits. I didn’t think the pandemic would last that long either.”

King eventually got his momentum back. In late 2020 she made her first appointment since the initial closure for February 2021.

“It felt good to feel a sense of normality,” she said. “But I know many others still haven’t made appointments. The doctor’s office seemed emptier than usual that day.”

After the visit, she learned that there was a small spot on her chest that needed to be examined more closely. The good news is that it ended up being harmless, King said. She said she wonders how many others have not been so lucky.

More than 9 million cancer screenings have been missed or postponed during the pandemic, according to a study by JAMA Oncology. The study found that screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer across the board have declined by more than 50% during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic times.

dr Heather Clark, a local dentist, said she’s seen patients on all ends of the spectrum over the past two years. Her practice, Clark Family Dentistry in St. Joseph, was closed for seven weeks in spring 2020, in accordance with American Dental Association guidelines.

“There were some (patients) who didn’t really care and some were angry that we had to close,” she said. “Others stayed at home. We still see some people coming back now. We’ve seen this influx of patients in the last year or so. The majority of people were willing to come in.”

The proposed policy for periodic dental check-ups varies. A three to four month cleaning should be performed for anyone who has been diagnosed with gum disease or has a history of high risk of tooth decay or other health problems. Patients with healthy teeth and gums should have a check-up every six months.

One thing Clark said she and her staff are seeing is an increase in oral health concerns from increased mask use. Mouth breathing can cause an increase in gingivitis, bleeding gums, dry mouth, gingivitis, and more calcium buildup on the teeth.

“In these conditions we are seeing increased decay and it has increased at a faster rate,” she said. “They don’t produce the saliva they need to break up plaque and break down food build-up.”

When you return to regular checkups at the dentist or GP, Clark suggests asking to be on some sort of cancellation list and being willing to be flexible.

“Conversely, respect your appointments,” she said. “Make sure you show up. It is about being polite not only to the doctor but also to other patients. Health care is important. So, keep this deadline.”

Clark said health care shouldn’t be put off. She recently had a patient she hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. What had apparently started as a simple decay had grown into a fully decayed tooth.

“They had to lose the whole tooth,” she said. “Don’t put off dental care. Oral care has so much to offer. Controlling diabetes, stroke or heart attack. It can reduce your risk. There are also studies showing the cause and effect of the link between Alzheimer’s and poor oral health.”

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