Is dentistry's recovery from COVID-19 in reverse?

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The ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI) has reported that patient volumes at dental practices continue to slide. They fell to 76% of pre-COVID-19 levels during the week of November 16, according to a November 30 article from ADA News.

During the week of November 2, dentists reported patient volume at 77% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Patient volumes have slipped for approximately six weeks. Prior to that period, patient volume had been holding steady at approximately 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels.

This may be another indication that dentistry's recovery is headed in the wrong direction. Once lockdowns subsided, dentistry saw a robust return, but in recent weeks this has changed. Earlier in November, 13% of dentists reported being unprofitable. Prior to the pandemic, only 1% were in that same position. As dentists move into the winter months, they may have to make some tough decisions.

Capacity and patient volume

Capacity is not affecting patient volume. Most practices also have the capacity to see more patients, with about one-third of dentists reporting that their current maximum capacities are between 51% and 75%. Only about 1 in 10 dentists are operating at patient capacities of more than 95%. In most cases, larger group practices have higher maximum patient capacities, according to the results.

Other concerns

Dentists reported that they will have to take some drastic measures to maintain operations. Some will raise dental fees while others may sell their practices or retire. Approximately one-third of dentists who are at least 65 reported they would sell, and about 40% said they are considering retirement, HPI reported.

Experts have said during previous HPI panels that 10% to 15% of dental practices are projected to disappear due to closures, buyouts, and mergers. Though experts have projected 2020 and 2021 to be bumpy, they are more optimistic that dentistry will find its way back in 2022.

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