With COVID-19 altering all aspects of society over the past year or so, it’s perhaps not surprising that it also appears to have spurred a change in personal dental habits.

Indeed, Japanese news outlets have published several anecdotal reports that suggest that certain family members have been increasingly reluctant to share their toothpaste with others living under the same roof.

Supporting such a view, however, are recent consumer statistics released by hygiene and cleaning products manufacturer Lion Inc., which reported that sales of personal toothpaste products exceeded those targeting families for the first time.

What’s more, luxury toothpaste sales are reportedly climbing steadily compared to the cheaper options, which are struggling to attract much interest.

Social media is full of users recommending fancy toothpaste and oral care products. And yet such recommendations only go so far, with some making sure their oral hygiene products are clearly separated from those of others, even if they share the same shelf.

“My wife and I use our own separate brands of toothpaste,” @yakumoguma wrote on Twitter. “We also have separate nail clippers.”

Twitter user @NAONAONAO252525 was even more blunt.

“I don’t like sharing the same toothpaste with my family or with anyone else. Am I overly sensitive?” they asked. “I would hate it if anyone used my toothpaste on the sly. After each use, I hide my toothpaste behind the bathroom cabinet.”

It wasn’t so long ago when it was relatively common for family members to share the same towels and wipe their feet on the same bath mat. Bathing together was a way to save hot water as well as provide a means of sharing quality time together. The pandemic appears to have all but stamped out such cozy intimacy.

That said, the emergence of COVID-19 appears to have helped many take better care of their teeth. With more people spending time at home, they are more likely to pay attention to oral care, albeit with their own, personal products.

A spokesperson from Kao Corp. told Nikkei.com that more than 80% of consumers now brush their teeth more than twice a day. By comparison, just 3% of the populace brushed their teeth after every meal in 1975, while 72% brushed them less than once a day.

The same article argues that consumers are more conscious of their oral hygiene than they have ever before, something that can’t be solely blamed on the pandemic.

This is thanks, in large part, to decades of relentless marketing from major manufacturers, plus the initiation of a government campaign called “8020” that was launched in 1989.

At the time, the government called on consumers to take oral hygiene seriously, and encouraged everyone to have 20 teeth left when they reached 80 years old. In 2016, consumers between the ages of 65 and 69 had 21.6 teeth left on average, as opposed to 11.5 when the campaign first took off.

But investing time and money on oral hygiene is not the same as visiting a dentist.

“During the first state of emergency last April, a lot of my patients came in to fix their dental problems,” says Takashi Matsukura, who runs a dental clinic in Suginami Ward. “These patients were at home, they had time and they were more optimistic about the pandemic being defeated by summer. As fall rolled in, however, people were less willing to come even if they were in pain because of the rise in the number of infections. This is a mistake, because dental treatment is an essential and urgent matter.”

Indeed, dentists nationwide believe customers shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional treatment if they believe they have a cavity or periodontal disease.

“I know that people may be fearful of getting infected with COVID-19,” says Takanori Aoki of Aoki Dental Clinic. “But diseases in and around the teeth require professional attention. As long as your dentist deploys the correct and appropriate anti-infection measures, there’s no reason to forego professional dental care.”

In a recent survey of dentists conducted by PR Times, more than 30% of the 1,102 respondents said that they saw a decrease in patient numbers and 80% professed that they were worried about a spike in cavities and periodontal disease.

Both are conditions that can be easily remedied with early treatment, the respondents said. In other words, the longer you put off that visit to the dentist, the longer it will take for the problem to go away, thereby increasing your chances of infection.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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