As more and more dental offices continue to reopen during this widespread pandemic, we spoke with Dr. Gehani to answer some common questions and shed light on the steps that your office should take.
Overall, what trends have you noticed among dental offices as they continue to reopen?
The American Dental Association’s (ADA) Health Policy Institute (HPI) has conducted a survey every two weeks since the week of March 23 to better understand the impact of the pandemic on dental practices. According to the latest data from July 13, 98% of dental offices are fully open and patient volume is at 71% of pre-COVID-19 levels. In early April, only 3% of dental practices were open for all procedures.
This data indicates that following the reopening of dental practices over the last couple of months, patients have returned, and so have jobs. The May jobs report showed a bleak situation for the dental industry, reporting that dentists lost the most jobs in the healthcare sector in April. However, those jobs have continued to come back as dental practices reopened for more than emergent and urgent care, and according to HPI data, 89% of dental staff respondents reported being paid fully. In HPI’s poll from the week of April 20, only 13% of staff received full pay.
Have you found that patients are ready to be seen again?
Yes, overall, dental practices have experienced a steady rebound in patient volume. Consumer polling commissioned by HPI showed that 72% of adults are comfortable visiting the dentist now and another 14% are willing to go if they had safety reassurance from their dentist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or other authorities.
How do you recommend providers re-engage with patients?
The ADA’s Advisory Task Force for Dental Practice Recovery has developed a Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit (open access for ADA members and non-members) that recommends measures to take to help protect patients, staff and dentists from COVID-19 as dental practices re-engage in providing the full range of oral health care. The toolkit includes a sample letter to patients, guidance on pre-appointment screening, in-office patient registration procedures, reception area preparation strategies, and more. As our knowledge of COVID-19 continues to grow, the toolkit will be continuously updated accordingly.
The ADA has also provided to ADA members the Patient Return Resource Center with customizable communication tools for practices to use with patients, based on the guidance in the Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit. Dentists can also point patients to the ADA’s consumer website, MouthHealthy.org, which has information for patients about what to expect at their next dental appointment.
What steps can dental offices take to best support their employees while reopening?
For additional mental health resources from the ADA, visit COVID-19 Mental Health Resources. In terms of safety, guidance from the ADA and CDC gives dental professionals the information they need to practice as safely as possible, which can be found in form of the ADA Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit.
The Toolkit builds upon the already strong infection prevention protocols in place in dental offices and is based on the best-available scientific evidence. The guidance includes specific recommendations before, during, and after dental appointments, as well as recommendations for pre-screening patients and staff, a supplies shopping list and staff, and patient protection strategies. The Toolkit is a great place for dental practices to start as they open their practices and see patients. While each practice operates independently, the Toolkit can serve as guidance for practices across the country. Additionally, the Toolkit contains ways dentists and hygienists can reduce aerosols such as:
Hand scaling when cleaning teeth rather than using ultrasonic scaling,
Use of high-velocity suction whenever possible and
Use of rubber dental dams whenever possible
What is the most important thing to remember when reopening your office?
As dental health professionals, your patients’ health has always been a top priority. We know that resuming regular dental visits is important because treatment, as well as prevention of dental disease, helps keep people healthy. The guidance from the ADA and CDC gives dental professionals the information they need to practice as safely as possible and help their patients maintain their oral and overall health.
Lastly, where can dental professionals find more information about reopening their offices? How is the ADA helping providers access the resources and tools that they need to reopen (i.e. Acquiring PPE, Paycheck Protection, teledentistry tools, etc.)?
Helpful resources and information related to the ADA’s response to COVID-19 can be found at ADA.org/virus, including digital events, guidance for reopening and updates from ADA News. Additional HPI data and resources can be found at ADA.org/HPI. Consumer information and resources can be found at MouthHealthy.org.