Life can be unpredictable. The year was off to a great start and came to a screeching halt as COVID-19 impacted countries, communities and people we know and love. Elective dental care was paused voluntarily, and we were asked to social distance while scientists and epidemiologists learned more about the disease and its spread. Focusing dental care on urgent and emergency services also facilitated personal protective equipment, or PPE, being directed to front line health care workers treating patients infected by this virus.
The dental profession demonstrated great resiliency as it responded to the pandemic. In early March, Dr. Chad P. Gehani, president of the American Dental Association, quickly mobilized a COVID-19 Response Team. Comprised of ADA staff and volunteers, the team developed guidelines and resources to support the dental team. ADA made the initial online resources publicly available to both members and nonmembers through the ADA Coronavirus (COVID-19) Center for Dentists. The intention was to work together with public and private partners, and to keep the public and the dental profession safe and informed as the pandemic unfolded and as our knowledge of the virus, its transmission and health impacts became better understood. Many resources were developed and shared, including interim guidance, webinars and helpful information about government support programs.
The ADA also led advocacy and communication efforts with governmental agencies to ensure availability of PPE to dental providers. One of my favorite examples of outreach and support was a webinar in April co-sponsored by the ADA, the American College of Dentists and Dentsply Sirona titled, “Pandemics & Dental Practices: Ethical Challenges.” This interactive session explored ethical responses to the unique issues raised by the pandemic, including equity and access, allocation of scarce resources, and infection control and prevention of transmission, and provided an opportunity to reflect on the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Conduct. As moderator, I heard first-hand the participants’ questions about safe dental practice, and their concern for their patients and co-workers. This is just one of many examples of public and private organizations collaborating to provide education and support to help the profession and the public.
We are now several months into the pandemic in the United States, and dental offices in many parts of the country have resumed routine dental care. Dental and dental hygiene schools are adjusting their curricula so that students can continue their studies. Dental team members are going back to work with great care and concern for the health and safety of their patients, teammates and their families at home. Some dental practice management experts predict that dental offices might expect three phases of recovery over the next few months, from reopening to fulfilling backlog to getting back to normal. (See related article by Dr. Roger P. Levin at ADA.org/DPS.) They theorize the initial recovery period to be chaotic with patients rescheduling and/or cancelling while staff adjusts to new regulations and workflows. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; most offices expect phase three to start two to three months after phase one begins, allowing them to refocus on long-term stability and growth.
We’ve also learned that now, more than ever, both dental professionals and our patients appreciate the importance of oral health to our overall health and well-being. Thousands of emergency procedures were provided to patients throughout the height of the pandemic, and now patients are anxious to return to their dental offices for routine preventive and restorative dental care. We know that dental and periodontal health is especially important for older adults and for patients with chronic conditions, and we’ve learned about the potential connection between poor oral hygiene and high bacterial load in the mouth and complications associated with COVID-19 infections.1 Dental care is critical to the health and well-being of everyone in our communities, and it is exciting to see our economy rebounding and dental practices resuming as safely and as carefully as possible.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are looking at their own well-being differently — and may have questions when resuming their dental visits. It is important that we do not lose sight of their needs and concerns as part of our rebound and recovery efforts.
Dentsply Sirona has been committed to health and safety for more than 100 years. That’s why we have teamed up with the American Dental Association to provide ADA members access to free patient communication tools based on the ADA Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit. The Patient Return Resource Center empowers ADA members and their teams to ease their patients’ safety concerns as they return for routine visits. Customizable communications tools, such as social posts and email templates, are available to help you continue to put health and safety first as we start to navigate our new “normal” together.
About the author
Dr. Dolan is chief clinical officer for Dentsply Sirona. She is a former professor and dean of the University of Florida College of Dentistry, where she first served as the faculty director of the geriatric dentistry program, focusing research and publication in areas of geriatric dentistry. She earned a DDS degree from the University of Texas and an MPH degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.
1 Sampson, V. Oral hygiene risk factor. Br. Dent J 2020 Apr;228(8):569