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Dental offices show strong signs of recovery despite 500,000 job losses in April

Dentistry has shown signs of a strong recovery over the last five weeks as dental offices across the country have resumed preventive care. By mid-March, much of the profession had reduced patient care to emergency treatments in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With limited patient care and short supply of PPE, dentistry saw the steepest decline in employment in the health care sector with more than 500,000 job losses in April.

Despite the dramatic loss, A biweekly survey by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation report are showing a quick rebound with the dental industry gaining a quarter-million jobs in May — accounting for a full 10% of the net jobs added across the American economy.

Getting back to practice

Nearly 50% of dentists had laid off their entire staffs by mid-April, according to data collected by HPI. Only 13% remained fully open, with the remaining offices keeping a skeleton staff. Patient visits fell to 7% of normal rates.

By June 1, 90% of dental practices in the U.S. were open with 20% reporting “business as usual,” according to the HPI. Of the 10% that remain closed, 7% intend to open by the end of June.

“My initial predictions were we’d have an elevator ride down and an escalator ride up, but we’re actually seeing a pretty sharp acceleration of the jobs coming back,” said Marko Vujicic, chief economist and vice president of HPI.

As for what is helping with the quick recovery, the federal stimulus programs are presumed to have played a key role.

According to an article published June 10 in the New York Times, dental practices who participated in the Paycheck Protection Program were more likely to remain open than those that didn’t. The report said that an estimated 37 percent of dental offices received funding through the program, which was meant to help small business keep workers on payroll.

Nationally, dental practices are hiring staff back at a rapid pace. Data from the HPI shows that by mid-May, 58% of dental offices had hired their full staffs back. The number rose to 77% percent by the first week of June.

Patients prioritizing oral health care

As stay-at-home restrictions are being eased and more people are resuming normal activities, data polls show that going to the dentist is at the top of people’s to-do lists. In a consumer poll conducted in mid-May by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 82% of people said they have already gone to the dentist or will do so in the next three months.

Out of the 48 states that have permitted dental offices to resume preventive care as of June 1, 70% of dentists reported that their schedule for June is already more than half full. For dental offices that are booking fewer appointments, more research is needed to determine if that is the result of lack of patients or reduced capacity due to new safety protocols.

The availability of PPE in dental practices also continues to improve, including N95/KN95 masks, gowns and face shields — indicating more signs of a strong rebound.

Road to recovery far from over despite strong rebound

Even with last month’s significant job gains, the dental industry still has 289,000 fewer workers than it did before the pandemic — signaling to dentistry experts that the recovery is still far from over. Lack of child or family care, stress over current events and the new challenges of providing dental care amid the COVID-19 pandemic could delay many employees from returning to work so soon.

Visit the CDA COVID-19 information center for the latest pandemic and dentistry-related news.