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CDA members and California’s dental community turn to our association for timely, trusted information about current and developing issues in dentistry. The Update provides resources and guidance on topics affecting dentists, their patients and their profession, including dental benefit plans, regulatory compliance, legislation and advocacy, patient safety and practice management.
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Dental offices have maintained a strong and steady recovery since resuming preventive care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since June, CDA has conducted a weekly poll to gain further insight on the effects of the pandemic on dental teams and their progress over the last four months as they adapt to safely providing care under new protocols. The following results highlight the current status of practices in three areas: protective personal equipment, patient appointments and recovery efforts.
Personal protective equipment
Access to adequate amounts of personal protective equipment became an obstacle for dental teams when they resumed preventive care in May under stricter infection control protocols. CDA’s July 30 survey shows that dental offices were able to keep up with demand as 78% of dentists reported a consistent two-week supply of adequate PPE.
A Sept. 7 survey by the ADA Health Policy Institute revealed a slight decrease with 68% of California dentists reporting a two-week supply of PPE.
The use of additional PPE sparked new challenges as several dental professionals began experiencing various health complications, including headaches, dehydration, profuse sweating and fatigue. In an Aug. 6 poll, 67% of participants reported side effects since the implementation of additional PPE.
Stress over the pandemic could be linked to an increase in patients with fractured teeth. In a Sept. 17 poll, 49% of dentists surveyed reported seeing more patients with both fractured teeth and signs of bruxism.
Experts believe stress related to the pandemic could be causing people to grind and clench their teeth more, resulting in damage.
California’s containment efforts for the coronavirus could have affected business for dental offices. In a July 1 survey, nearly 60% of dentists saw an increase in appointment cancellations during a rise in California’s COVID-19 infection rate.
An Aug. 3 recommendation from the World Health Organization to delay routine dental care threw the safety of dental offices into question with 45% of practices reporting an increase in cancellations shortly after the recommendation was reported by media.
Despite the hindrance, CDA’s Aug. 13 poll shows that patients kept their appointments at 55% of surveyed practices.
With the assurance of additional PPE, frequent COVID-19 testing among dental staff and increased infection control protocols, dentists have been able to gain and maintain patients’ trust in returning to the dentist office during the pandemic.
Although many patients may feel comfortable now returning to the dentist amid the pandemic, many dentists expect patient volume to decrease between October and December. In a Sept. 10 survey, 46% of participants said they expect a lower patient volume, while 31% expect their patient volume to remain the same.
Adaptation and recovery efforts
The road to recovery has had its challenges, but practice owners have received help along the way through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Enhanced Provider Relief Fund. Created by the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, the fund is intended to help health care providers suffering economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Sept. 3 poll, 65% of surveyed dentists said they applied and received funding through the HHS Provider Relief Fund, while 6% of applicants did not receive funding and 29% did not apply.
As dental teams adapt to new ways of providing care during the pandemic, there was a slight increase in the use of teledentistry. A poll taken Aug. 20 shows that 21% of dentists increased their use of teledentistry since the start of the pandemic and plan to continue using it.
Some dental professionals were able to capitalize on the new virtual learning environment to maintain live C.E. course requirements during the pandemic. In a survey taken Aug. 27, 46% of participants said they will have enough C.E. credits to renew their license.
However, 41% believe they have not had enough opportunities to obtain C.E. credit, while another 14% said they’ve had a difficult time finding basic life support courses.
CDA will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on dental offices and report all findings in the CDA COVID-19 information center. Practice owners can also find resources to aid the recovery and adaptation process in CDA’s Back to Practice center.
Kerry K. Carney, DDS
Journal Editor in Chief