Poll: 71% uncomfortable seeing dentists during COVID-19 pandemic

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About three in four patients do not feel safe visiting their dentists for nonurgent dental treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data released by the dental service organization (DSO) North American Dental Group (NADG).

Fear for their own personal health and safety and uncertainties about whether clinicians are following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines and taking appropriate infection control measures have patients on edge, according to the results. The research was conducted during the first week of April by the dental group and the market research firm YouGov.

"It is understandable that concern regarding overall health and safety is paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Andrew Matta, DMD, NADG's chief medical officer, in a statement issued by the DSO.

A level of detachment

Patients' feelings and perceptions, as well as the lack of a streamlined U.S. government approach to the pandemic, have sowed the seeds of this disconnect and created challenges for dental offices, the research suggests.

Many states throughout the U.S., such as New York and New Jersey, have issued self-isolation or stay-at-home orders, putting many businesses on pause. The ADA made the unprecedented move of recommending that dentists halt all nonemergency care through April 30, and it has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to give dentists the greenlight and supplies to test patients for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

The most recent move was made as some states have extended their orders to stay home and maintain social distancing. However, a new survey found that 46% of dentists don't believe they can sustain operations if these restrictions remain in place through the end of August. Meanwhile, other states are shifting to "safer-at-home" orders, which will allow dental offices, childcare facilities, and tattoo shops to reopen on April 27.

With so many conflicting and unresolved issues, it's not surprising that 71% of the 1,270 adults polled in the NADG research reported that they were uncomfortable visiting their dentists for checkups, elective treatments, and other nonurgent care during the pandemic. Only 54% felt comfortable visiting dentists for emergency care, the poll showed.

With 77% of respondents saying they were concerned about their personal health and safety during the pandemic, only 42% reported feeling confident that their dentists are prepared to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at their offices.

Not ready to return

In all, 43% of patients admitted to delaying a dental checkup or procedure or developing a new dental problem during the pandemic, proving that patients aren't ready to get back in dentists' chairs, according to the survey.

"The findings are worrying as a significant number of Americans are putting off dental care, whether by choice or to comply with national and state guidelines, which could lead to meaningful problems in the future," Dr. Matta said.

Adding insult to injury, a survey of about 1,400 people conducted by Illinois-based Advanced Dermatology showed that many aren't maintaining hygiene habits while working remotely during the pandemic.

One in five people admitted to brushing their teeth less than they normally would, in addition to showering, doing their hair, and putting on makeup less, according to the survey.

Lots of confusion

Finally, many patients have no idea about the status of dental practices.

Almost 40% believe that offices are open only for emergencies. However, 27% think offices are closed and 34% are unsure, according to the poll.

Reassuring patients that dentists are taking adequate safety measures during emergency care is critical, but half of patients polled said the most important consideration for visiting offices during the pandemic is transparency. Patients want to know whether any known cases of COVID-19 have been connected to their dentists' offices.

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