The State of Dentistry After the COVID-19 Shutdown
It’s been six months since the Novel Coronavirus Disease, COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Every line of work has seen many changes since then, with dentistry being no exception. Where do we stand now as a profession, half a year into the pandemic? Well, the answer is a mixture of good news and bad news.
The Good News
Jobs in the dental field are on the rise. In fact, reopened dental practices accounted for 78.2 percent of all healthcare jobs recovered in the two months following the WHO’s declaration. Between April and May alone, the dental industry recovered 244,000 jobs while the healthcare industry recovered 312,000 overall. Dental offices accounted for 10 percent of all jobs gained during the month of May across the entire U.S. economy.
The CDC has stopped recommending that non-emergency dental care be postponed, allowing for routine care like teeth cleanings. Most dental offices have reopened and are steadily increasing their volume to pre-COVID levels. Industry experts expect most practices to reach 80 to 90 percent of their 2019 monthly production by the end of December, barring a second coronavirus wave.
The Bad News
While most dental offices have reopened, they’re still feeling the effects of the mandated closures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Ninety-seven percent of practices had to shut down, resulting in over 500,000 jobs lost in April. Although practices have reopened and rehired furloughed staff, many staff members belonging to high-risk populations have declined to return out of concern for their health. More than 90 percent of dentists have applied for relief during the pandemic. Additionally, rising PPE costs due to a worldwide shortage are presenting new difficulties for recently opened practices.
How Dentists Are Handling the Rising Cost of PPE
The California Dental Association recommends several ways of offsetting the cost to maintain a safe practice:
- Communicate with patients about the reason behind cost increases, explaining why it is necessary to protect the collective health and safety of patients as well as staff.
- Consult dental plan providers about added fees.
- Familiarize yourself with anti-gouging laws, which prohibit businesses from raising costs past a certain amount during an emergency.
- Advocate for third-party reimbursement through dental plans.
How COVID-19 Has Reshaped the Patient Experience
Offices are increasingly paperless, with patients being asked to complete forms online and ahead of time. Most patients can no longer be accompanied by a family member or friend. Travel screenings, temperature checks, and Plexiglass barriers are the new normal.
Dental offices are limiting patient volume to allow for better social distancing and more time to clean in between appointments. Patients are required to wear masks when not receiving treatment, and many older patients as well as those belonging to vulnerable populations are reluctant to come in.
There’s also the emerging evidence that COVID-19 spreads in aerosol form, a particular threat to dental professionals and patients alike. Dental aerosols are created through the use of high-powered dental instruments. These aerosols can span up to six-and-a-half feet and linger in the air for up to six hours. Due to the unique threat posed by aerosols, dental clinics must take the most stringent precautions for infection control.
Dentists are doing everything they can to ensure that patients feel safe and comfortable before, during, and after their office visit. They are also bracing for the possibility of a second coronavirus wave by using the necessary PPE and following CDC guidelines on slowing the spread of the virus.