Dentistry's recovery has stalled; what do dentists face now?

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com assistant editor

October 20, 2020 -- Now that 99% of dental practices in the U.S. have reopened following COVID-19 shutdowns, dentists and dental service organizations (DSOs) can't hire assistants and hygienists, according to data released on October 16 by the ADA's Health Policy Institute (HPI).

Roughly one-third of owner dentists have recently or are currently recruiting dental assistants and 24% are recruiting hygienists. Meanwhile, 45% of DSO dentists are in search of hygienists and about 63% are recruiting dental assistants. Only about 8% of owner dentists are seeking dentists, whereas four times as many or about 32% of DSO dentists are looking to hire dentists, according to HPI.

Recruiting dental team members is challenging. Among dentists hiring for any position, the majority report that it has been extremely or very challenging compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 80% reported it was extremely or very challenging to recruit hygienists, and roughly 70% said the same for assistants, the data showed.

That's not all

For the first time, the number of practices reporting "business as usual" dipped slightly, from about 47% during the week of September 21 to approximately 44% during the week of October 5. About 1% of practices remain closed, according to the data.

Patient volume has leveled off, settling at 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels as of the week of October 5. Signs that the recovery was slowing appeared in August. In late July, patient volume was at about 73% of pre-COVID-19 levels. It ticked up a percent or two for a few weeks but finally appears to have settled, according to HPI.

HPI previously had projected that dentistry was unlikely to reach 100% of prepandemic levels by the end of 2020, estimating the recovery would bottom out at about 85%. At 85% of prepandemic levels, dental spending would take a projected hit of approximately $56 billion. Now, spending is likely to take a bigger hit.


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