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As dental schools adjust to a new school year in the COVID era, getting students back in the field and providing patient care in the safest, most efficient way is a top priority. This year will bring new challenges for students who face stricter procedures and increased safety protocols in providing oral care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To support local dental schools in their efforts to ensure students have adequate protection, CDA facilitated the delivery of a substantial amount of PPE provided by the state of California. A CVS-Aetna grant also assisted in making the donations possible.
Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and Loma Linda School of Dentistry received a donation of PPE that will help students maintain infection control measures and offset the short supply and rising cost of PPE.
“The generosity of CDA’s donation cannot be overstated. Not only were there PPE shortages, but when you could find PPE, it was quite expensive,” said Avishai Sadan, DMD, MBA, dean of Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. “This generous donation is yet another example of CDA’s continued commitment to dental education, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the gesture.”
Students at Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC have resumed patient care under a completely new protocol. The goal for school leaders was not to change the valuable work that students provide but find a way that would better facilitate patient care.
“The work itself largely remains the same, but what has changed is the ways in which they are doing it,” he said. “From patient screenings, staggered appointments and pairing up students for ‘four-handed dentistry,’ we’ve had to make significant adjustments to the ways in which our faculty, staff, students and patients interact.”
The students care for diverse groups, serving patients of all ages and backgrounds including children, senior citizens, veterans and the homeless. In addition to treating patients on-site in the school’s clinic, the school’s partnership with Community Oral Health Programs also allows students to provide care in local community health clinics.
Dr. Sadan describes the pandemic as “a master class in hygiene and disease prevention” and says this experience underscores the value of lifelong learning and research.
“The COVID-19 crisis has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students to learn lessons of adaptability, strength and resilience,” he said. “I hope that they will know, after having gotten through this crisis, that they are equipped to face anything that might happen to them, both personally and professionally.”
Sharing similar sentiments, Nader A. Nadershahi, DDS, MBA, EdD, dean of the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry believes this opportunity for students to provide care during the pandemic and adapt to the new protocols is giving them first-hand experience on how many aspects of the dental profession are changing on a regular basis.
“They are learning flexibility and how to use scientific evidence to navigate through this new normal,” Dr. Nadershahi said. “They will be very well prepared for the changes our profession will experience not just today, but for decades to come.”
Students at Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry resumed patient care in June at the school’s clinic locations in San Francisco and Union City. With the new safety protocols and additional PPE, students have been able to provide the same quality care and many of the services as before the pandemic.
“The use of enhanced PPE and other protocols may have changed, but our commitment to providing patient-centered care in a humanistic environment remains the same,” he said.
In addition to extra PPE, the school is implementing enhanced air filtration, staggered appointments, daily health screenings for students, faculty and staff, optional telehealth screenings for new patients and mandatory COVID-19 testing for patients prior to their appointments.
Like many people who have been affected by the pandemic, most patients at the clinics served by students at Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine are now working reduced schedules or have been laid off.
Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS, dean of the College of Dental Medicine said that due to circumstances, patients are even more dependent on the care the dental students provide. He says the recent PPE donation from CDA allows students to focus on fulfilling patients’ needs.
“This valuable donation will help assure the safety of our patients, students, faculty and staff in these challenging times,” he said. “It also helps to offset the increased costs related to providing care so that we can continue serving those most in need.”
The College of Dental Medicine serves 73 community health clinics spanning from Chula Vista to Redding. Students complete two seven-week rotations during their third and fourth year, often providing care at federally qualified health centers, schools and local health centers.
Approximately 600 students returned to Loma Linda University School of Dentistry this year — many of them eager to pick up where they left off in mid-March after the pandemic temporarily delayed routine dental care and forced schools to shut down in-person classes and transition to virtual learning.
Robert Handysides, DDS, dean of Loma Linda University School of Dentistry says he views the pandemic’s disruption as a major turning point in dental education.
“The typical dental education environment was turned upside down and all schools around the nation struggled to deal with the fallout and uncertainty it brought,” Dr. Handysides said. “I firmly believe that while many feel this year has been a ‘bunch of lemons’ and most can’t wait for it to be over, there is and will be some amazing ’lemonade’ made in dental education and it is as exciting to watch the innovation and adaptations develop.”
Since resuming routine care, students are only providing treatment on campus, as the school has suspended offsite volunteer work due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Longing to pick back up on the school’s community service and outreach efforts, Dr. Handysides says students will be able to offer their time and skills to underserved communities when school officials deem it safe enough.
Throughout this experience, he hopes students will gain a new appreciation for life.
“I hope they learn to adapt and engage with the changes that get thrown at them,” he said. “And that in the end, we learn to rely on each other a bit more and treat all with compassion, kindness and empathy.”
Kerry K. Carney, DDS
Journal Editor in Chief