The public broadcasting platforms have kept the public up to date on the tragic effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on healthcare, systems. Most notably, it has recognized hospitals and physician offices. But the dental community has also been greatly affected, and as a result, there is a long-term effect on nationwide oral health. The impacts that the coronavirus has had on the dental community include limited access to dental care, loss of jobs, mental health impacts and legal concerns.
The American Dental Association (ADA) started tracking the effects of COVID-19 on the dental community in March of 2020. According to this early poll, by the week of May 6, 2020, only 1% of dental offices were open to business as usual. Further, the poll revealed that 60.3% of offices were open for only emergency visits and 7.9% of offices had closed altogether.
In the most recent poll, the week of May 17, 2021, only 34% of dental offices have returned to business as usual and 65.8% of offices are open but with lower patient volume. The effect on businesses is apparent in the polls, as employees were temporarily laid off; patients were affected as well, as routine appointments were not available in many places.
There are short-term and long-term effects of a business closure. Many employees suffered financial hardship as a result of practice closing or reduced services and the ensuing layoffs. Another new poll of dental practices that contains over 4,000 responses suggests that as of May 15, 2020, 42% of dentists have reported that their income has stopped completely as compared with 4% lawyers, 2% pharmacists, and 1% physicians. This clearly shows that dentistry is the worst hit profession by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Community Access to Dental Services
Due to the 2020 pandemic, the public’s access to dental care has been severely limited, as discussed above. But what many may not have considered is our pediatric population’s access to dental care. School-based dental health programs are essential, as they are the only access to oral health for many children.
CareQuest Institute for Oral Health and the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) surveyed state and territorial dental directors to find the impact that COVID-19 has had on school systems’ oral health programs. Findings showed that only 25% of the directors stated that they were planning for sealant programs at the schools. Only 65% said they were “confident that they could provide additional support to schools-based programs to increase readiness to participate in oral health programs.” There is a nationwide concern for an increase in children’s oral disease.
Mental Health Impact
The pandemic has affected the mental wellness of almost everyone in 2020 in some way. Even those that were previously mentally healthy have experienced some anxiety with all the changes over the last year. A study was conducted of dentists all over the country to evaluate the prevalence of coronavirus-related anxiety during May of 2020. It revealed that 42.5% of the dentists that completed the study had COVID-19 related anxiety; further, 62.5% of those that were tested had no previous psychiatric disorders. The surveyors suggested workshops to educate on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to help maintain the mental health of dentists.
The dental profession is considered a high risk for exposure and transmission of COVID-19. Routes of transmission for the virus include the oral, nasal, and eye mucous membranes. Since dental procedures require close contact with the face and inside the mouth, dentists and dental assistants should be aware of legal implications to avoid malpractice lawsuits.
One recent article lists special safety measures that include patient screenings prior to care visits, scheduling patient appointments at appropriate intervals, disinfection of waiting areas, proper use of personal protective equipment, and proper disinfection of the clinical areas.
During the pandemic, several states granted immunity to health care providers, stating that they were not liable for transmission of the COVID-19 virus while treating patients and acting in good faith. Dentists should inform appropriate authorities if they suspect to have treated a possible COVID-19 patient. Coronavirus cases are still active in the U.S., so dental practices should be diligent to prevent the spread of the virus.
The impact of the coronavirus on the dental community is daunting. So, how does one recover after a pandemic? The American Dental Association outlined how to develop a recovery plan for dentists recovering from the pandemic.
First, your plan should be divided into three categories: practice, staff, patients, and financial. Next, list three recovery strategies under each category. The American Dental Association specifies that strategies should be value-based, meaning choose those strategies that will have the most impact. Then, write a goal for each category. Recovery plan goals could include practice-wide staff training, cash accumulation or the updating of equipment. Goals should be detailed. Finally, keep track of your progress to ensure you are moving forward towards your goals.
Consider using a professional company for your hiring and training needs. Strategic Practice Solutions offers training and education, as well as assists with the hiring process for dental practices. Moreover, the Strategic Practice Solutions Dental Academy offers quality, accessible learning opportunities for the dental community. Follow the link for more information.