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CDA’s pandemic response: ‘Never a time to be prouder as a dentist and a part of the dental community’

October 22, 2020 1817

Quick Summary:

Looking back on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, the CDA community has listened, adapted and responded to the tremendous challenges dentists are facing through continued contributions that support members’ most pressing needs.

As spring arrived, so did COVID-19 and with it the challenge of delivering dental care during this pandemic. The last seven months have shown resilience among the dental community, with CDA and components providing guidance, resources and support to get practices running and safeguard patient and staff health.

This lookback on our community’s work showcases members’ needs and leaders’ ability to listen, adapt and respond to the tremendous challenges presented by the pandemic.

“Without the help of CDA, California dentists may not have had the resources to safely reopen their practices as soon as we did,” said Stephanie Sandretti, DDS, chair of CDA’s Government Affairs Council. “CDA provides a tremendous level of grassroots and behind-the-scenes advocacy for dentists in the state of California that often goes unnoticed.”

Supporting dentists is the backbone of CDA’s mission, and volunteer leadership made the precautionary recommendation in mid-March for California dentists to suspend all nonemergency care for at least two weeks to ensure the safety of dentists, staff and patients while information was being gathered.

“That recommendation wasn’t made lightly,” said Richard Nagy, DDS, CDA president. “This was an extraordinary public health emergency that was changing every single day. And it called for extraordinary precautions.”

“The gravity of that time was felt on every level,” Dr. Nagy said. As scientists and health experts learned more about the virus, CDA continued to advocate for dentists and quickly mobilized leadership and resources on helping dentists get back to practice as safely and quickly as possible.  

Dr. Nagy immediately appointed two expert COVID-19 workgroups — Clinical Care and Economic Recovery — to sort through the science and economics and to lead the way in answering the pressing questions: What do dentists need and how can CDA help provide it?

Creating the resources that members need and ask for the most

With regulatory guidance coming from multiple state, federal and local agencies ― or in some cases, not coming at all ― dentists were looking for evidence-based recommendations they could trust as they began to return to practice when the “emergency care only” directive eased in May.

The Clinical Care Workgroup’s members worked with experts at the California Department of Public Health ― and State Dental Director Dr. Jayanth Kumar in particular, who co-chairs the group with Dr. Nagy ― to understand coronavirus transmission rates and develop an entire suite of resources known as “Back to Practice.” Along with clinical care guidance that includes training videos, easy-to-use flowcharts and checklists, the Back to Practice resource library includes assistance with employment questions, patient communications and navigating economic relief options. These resources have been accessed nearly 250,000 times on the CDA website.

“Whether it is interpreting guidance or getting the answers to very specific questions, this is a community where you can raise your hand and get the support you need." Judee Tippett-Whyte, DDS

Donald Clem, DDS, a periodontist in Fullerton and a member of the Clinical Care workgroup said the group reviewed many documents from the CDC, Cal/OSHA and the FDA but found that many of those source documents made recommendations with a “broad stroke” and in some instances were not applicable to dentistry.

“It was important that our workgroup conducted searches of independent literature since new evidence was emerging on a daily basis,” Dr. Clem said. “Our work with Dr. Kumar, along with our independent research as a respected evidence-based workgroup was invaluable to CDA, often bringing resources to members ahead of published guidance and allowing CDA to better advocate for dentistry’s needs.”

CDA’s ability to support members in the areas they most needed can be attributed to the contributions of the member community.

“Through what we see and hear in our own practices and in conversations with our peers, CDA and the component dental societies are in tune at all times — typically daily — to what dentists need during this difficult time,” said Judee Tippett-Whyte, DDS, and CDA president-elect, who serves on both CDA workgroups. “Whether it is interpreting guidance or getting the answers to very specific questions, this is a community where you can raise your hand and get the support you need.”

CDA held several Virtual Membership Meetings and Facebook Live events to directly answer members’ questions around topics like respiratory protection, human resources, patient communications and more.

Promoting the safety of the profession with a heavy media push

To help patients feel safe about returning to dental offices for care, CDA secured dozens of statewide media interviews with member dentists to highlight the strict protocols dentists follow in their practices.

Those interviews and earned media spots also helped to promote a positive image of dentistry and increase public awareness about the connection between oral health and overall health.

“Our message was clear,” said Cynthia Brattesani, DDS, who runs a practice in San Francisco and participated in media interviews. “We are infection control experts and we know how to take care of patients in a safe environment.”

Using CDA’s strength to advocate for new dentists too

The pandemic’s effects on dentistry were pervasive, affecting even the fate of California’s graduating dental students.

With in-person exams canceled, dental students in their final semester had no clear pathway to obtaining licensure. A CDA-led coalition successfully advocated for WREB and ADEX manikin-based examinations to be accepted for licensure in the state, impacting over 800 dental school graduates at all six dental schools.

“The approval of the manikin-based exam provided students and schools alike with critically needed relief during the challenging times of the pandemic,” said Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS, dean of Western University College of Dental Medicine. “The concerted and highly collaborative efforts of CDA leadership, dental school deans and CDA student representatives were really the key to obtaining the licensure changes.” 

Chintan Patel, DDS, 2020 graduate of the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry agreed. “It’s been amazing to see how we have come together at the student, school and state levels in California to advocate for the future of this profession.”

Advocacy, relief and representation key to supporting CDA members

Former CDA president and private-practice owner Natasha Lee, DDS, also ensured dentists had a seat at the table when she was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. The task force aimed to develop actions that government and businesses can take to help Californians recover as fast and as safely as possible from the COVID-19-induced recession.

CDA’s additional pandemic-related support and advocacy efforts for members included:

  • TDIC issuing premium refunds totaling nearly $6 million to The Dentists Insurance Company policyholders
  • The CDA Practice Support team logged more than 7,000 member issues in the first six months of the year to provide one-on-one guidance to members
  • Hosting webinars, Facebook Live events and Virtual Membership Meetings that covered the most pressing topics for CDA members
  • Working with the Newsom administration to secure two distributions of state-supplied PPE for all California dentists via TDSC
  • Partnership with the component dental societies, who were on the frontline securing PPE from local supply sources and helping members navigate questions and resources.
  • Advocating at the state and national levels to ensure dentists be considered essential health care workers during the economic shutdown
  • Released a special COVID-19 issue of the CDA Journal to uncover clinical insights across dentistry during the pandemic

While dentists adjust their practice management and patient care to a new normal, they reflect on the last few months with gratitude and pride for being a part of organized dentistry.

“Never a time to be prouder as a dentist and a part of the dental community,” said Dr. Brattesani.

Dr. Nagy affirmed that sentiment.

“Determined leadership, committed staff, resilient members and a never-ending sense of camaraderie have led to incredible contributions during the pandemic,” Dr. Nagy said. “That collective strength ensures we aren’t just investing in today, but in tomorrow’s dentists and their successful futures.”