Dentists are in denial when it comes to their pandemic role

2016 10 12 14 41 06 881 Dr B Second Opinion 400

Denial [de·ni·al] (noun)
  1. The action of declaring something to be untrue.
  2. A statement that something is not true.
  3. The refusal of something requested or desired.

Today, most dentists are in denial. Dentists simply deny they are true front-line workers in the healthcare industry. Who can blame them? It's far easier to be in denial when your exposure and likelihood of infection is much greater than that of nonessential healthcare workers.

Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD.Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD.

Denial is a coping mechanism that gives a person time to adjust to distressing situations, but staying in denial interferes with the ability to tackle challenges. When in denial, you're trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that's actually occurring.

In some cases, initial short-term denial can be a good thing, giving you time to adjust to a painful or stressful issue. It might also be a precursor to making some sort of changes in your practice and in your life.

Denial gives you time to adapt to the situation: "I just can't deal with that right now." But denial won't change the reality of the situation. Rocks are hard. Water is wet. Dentists and their staffs are front-line workers.

The facts are clear. Front-line workers are currently at a much higher risk of being infected by COVID-19. A review of results from the U.S. and U.K. shows that front-line healthcare workers are facing up to a nearly 12 times greater risk of a positive COVID-19 test, and those with inadequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) are at an additional 23% higher risk.

Dentists are at a higher risk of not only becoming sick and dying but also bringing the virus home to their families and the general community. It is essential that dentists are provided and protected with high-quality PPE and, most importantly, trained in how to use it (which, at this time, they are not).

Dental professional organizations (political and for-profit) do not have a uniform policy or protocols to address when a dentist is infected. There are seemingly no grounded plans, including financial support for when a dentist develops COVID-19.

There isn't any clear policy with disability insurers around COVID-19 -- and there are no direct requests for adjustments to their policies should a dentist contract the virus.

Why are dentists not checking with their lessors and with other loan holders about what they are willing to do if they get sick?

What would you tell the patients if the dentist becomes infected? Is there a call group established? Although recovery occurs within weeks, there are numerous case reports where symptoms linger and are debilitating.

Wake up and be responsible

When faced with an overwhelming turn of events, it's OK to say, "I just can't think about this right now." You might need time to work through what's happening and adapt to new circumstances. But it's important to realize that denial should only be a temporary measure. It won't change the actuality of the situation.

The most debilitating aspect of denial is that it doesn't encourage responsibility. You can't deal with reality if you are not responsible. Denial displaces responsibility.

Unfortunately, dentists becoming a more solid union would require financial commitments. More than likely, that won't happen. Dentists would need to "change their stripes" to make sure their colleagues were taken care of if one of them got sick.

My request of the dental industry is to wake up and be responsible. Dentists are front-line workers. Some will get sick. Some might even die. Figure out now exactly what to do when this occurs.

Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD, is the president of MBC Consultants. Dr. Cooper has worked throughout the healthcare industry during his career, with the majority of his clients being in the dental industry. His current focus is coaching leaders, dentists, and senior executives on how to effectively navigate their organizations and lead their respective teams during this period of tremendous uncertainty. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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