How the COVID-19 pandemic is overhauling the dentist-patient relationship
Updated: Sep 21
Written By David Silverberg
Treating patients during and after this COVID-19 pandemic wave will certainly be unlike any moment in modern health care history. As everyone in the industry knows, dentists have only been allowed to perform emergency procedures in Canada (and in other countries such as the U.S. and the UK). What that means for patients is that they’ve bene told, by their local dentists and via media reports, to only see dental professionals for issues mainly revolving around severe pain. As CBC advises, this is oral trauma and “pain that cannot be controlled with the painkiller that you buy off the shelf at the drugstore. Infection, redness, swelling, prolonged bleeding, uncontrolled bleeding.”
To get a sense of how empty dental offices have been in April 2020, this survey from the American Dental Association says it all: 79% of surveyed U.S. dentists said their practices are closed except for emergencies and 17% are closed completely. Also, more than two-thirds reported on April 6 their patient numbers plummeted to under 5% of what they normally do at the same time in the year.
What this all means for the dental industry is still unknown. Every profession has been upended by the pandemic and what its aftereffects will do job prospects and the daily interactions with customers. What’s inevitable is an overhaul, in some way, in how business is conducted, something we’re seeing more as provinces and states begin to open their doors cautiously. It’s no shock to the system to recognize how dentists will have to change how they conduct business in the coming years, as will patients. Instead, let’s find out what how COVID-19’s lingering effects will influence the many moving parts that make up the dental profession.
The patient paranoia problem On the front-burner of many dentists’ minds is a key question: Will patients be too worried about contracting COVID-19 that they won’t even come in for regular check-ups? Emergencies notwithstanding, patients could be wary of booking their usual appointments if they consider a visit to the dentist’s office too risky to do. Parents may be especially paranoid about their children visiting crowded waiting rooms and opening their mouth to hygienists and dentists, who are expected to provide sanitary environments yet a million assurances may not assuage misplaced fear. During the pandemic, patients are obviously queasy about stepping into the dentist’s chair. A survey released in late April found almost three-quarters of Americans polled reported that they are uncomfortable visiting their dentists during the COVID-19 pandemic for a non-time sensitive dental procedure.
Dentists will have to expect fewer patients as their community begins to reopen health care offices and social services. That may mean staff reduction and also a loss of revenue, which may encourage some dentists to apply for government relief programs (if they haven’t already).
Following local recommendation reports
As states and provinces begin to loosen restrictions, dental associations representing those regions have begun to lay out the framework for the new normal. The ADA for instance developed a toolkit to prepare dentists going back to work in some states. Their Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit focuses on the short-term management of dental practices and features a sample "welcome back" letter to patients, pre-appointment screening guidance, in-office patient registration procedures, reception area preparation strategies, a chairside checklist, staff protection strategies and a supplies shopping list. Yes, it’s exhaustive, so expect a complete overhaul of how you do business in the coming months.
In Canada, we can get a sneak preview of what a COVID-19-influenced dental office may look like. As CBC writes, Saskatchewan is allowing dentists to practice starting in mid-May, with very strict policies in place.
For example, all patients will be asked a series of questions to ensure they aren't showing COVID-19 symptoms. Their temperature will also be taken.
The report adds: “If drilling is required, the college asks dentists to do the procedure in an enclosed room with a closeable door.
Since many dental offices have an open concept layout, a large plastic tent with a zipper door can be set up around the work space.
The operating room must remain closed for two hours for dust in the room to settle before the room can be cleaned.”
In some areas of the U.S., such as Michigan, masks will be required when patients enter the building and waiting rooms will no longer be available. Instead, patients will be escorted directly to the operatory area upon arrival.
Challenges have been making their way into this gradual reopening, we’ve already noticed. In Canada, as dentists plan for reopening, some are worried the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they now need is in short supply as doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic need the same equipment.
“The supply, obviously, is low because initially, not every office had it, and those that did -- early on in the pandemic -- stepped up and donated it to those front lines that did need it,” Dr. Kim Hansen, president of the Ontario Dental Association, told CTV News. “Now that we're into week eight, the number of dental emergencies is increasing.”
What Muzeum Dental has recognized is just how lean times call for creative thinking. As patients trickle in, dental professionals may as well make up for the loss in revenue by seeing what they’ve tucked away in their trash or cabinets. Dental scrap can be a valuable commodity to trade in for much-needed cash these days, a specialty we can provide assistance for 24/7.
If you’re interested in learning about receiving our free kit to get a thorough assessment of the scrap you send us, contact our account executives anytime. Note that we also offer a prepaid return label to ship the scrap back to us due to Muzeum Dental limiting contact during the pandemic. David Silverberg