Is dentistry's COVID-19 recovery retracting?

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COVID-19 appears to still have a hold on dentistry. The number of dental practices operating under "business as usual" conditions has declined slightly each month since July 2021, according to new poll data released by the ADA's Health Policy Institute (HPI).

For the week of October 11, 62% of dentists reported their practices were open and operating as usual. That figure has ticked down each month since the week of July 12, when it was 68%. The results from HPI's U.S. COVID-19 impact poll of 1,461 dentists were released on October 25. HPI has conducted a regular poll since the start of the pandemic on the economic effects on dentists.

For that same period in October, 37% of dental practices were open but had lower patient volumes than normal. In July, this number was 31%, according to HPI.

However, the status of dental practices varied depending on their location in the U.S. North Dakota was the only state in which 100% of dentists reported that their practices were open and operating as usual during the week of October 11. Missouri followed closely behind with 89% of dentists reporting their offices were open and operating normally.

In contrast, Puerto Rico and Hawaii had the fewest practices back to normal as of the week of October 11. In Puerto Rico, 29% of dentists reported practices operating as usual, and 36% reported being back to normal in Hawaii, according to HPI.

Existing challenges

To maintain financial sustainability, 20% of dentists have raised fees and 16% have changed dental material suppliers and labs during the last month. Other measures dentists have taken include reducing dental staff hours, disenrolling from dental benefits plans, and borrowing money from the bank.

Another issue is the supply of personal protective equipment. As of October 11, dentists from 21 states, including Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Colorado, and West Virginia, reported having a zero-day supply of N95 and KN95 respirators. At 16.7%, West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota tied for the highest percentage of clinicians working with no supply of respirators, according to the results.

Practice status and respirator supplies aren't the only things affected by the pandemic. Most dentists have seen a rise in stress-related dental health conditions, with 69% reporting more teeth grinding and 63% reporting an increase in chipped or cracked teeth, according to poll data.

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