2% of pediatric dental patients had SARS-CoV-2 in new study

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

May 3, 2021 -- Approximately 2% of asymptomatic children tested positive for the novel coronavirus during dental visits in a study published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

The researchers believe this is the first study to evaluate the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in pediatric dentistry. Studies in adults have found that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the dental office mirrors the positivity rate of the local community.

Children have the potential to carry substantial viral loads and may easily spread the infection to others, noted the group, led by Dr. Flavia Lamberghini, a pediatric dentist in Chicago. Testing asymptomatic pediatric patients at dental practices may help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, they wrote (JADA, April 2021, Vol. 152:4, pp. 277-283).

Between April 1 and August 1, 2020, approximately 900 asymptomatic pediatric patients who visited university dental clinics for emergency dental procedures were tested for SARS-CoV-2 using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Staff first screened the patients by phone before they came to the clinics.

The median age of the patients was 6 years. Before the study, children were not required to undergo testing before receiving dental procedures.

The overall SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate in the pediatric dental patients was 2.3%, the authors wrote. The positivity rates were significantly higher for Hispanic or Latinx patients than for other children, they noted.

The study had some limitations; for example, the participants were not asked about social distancing and possible exposure to the virus. Nevertheless, testing asymptomatic pediatric patients may offer a new way of tracking potential cases, according to the group.

"It was good for families to know because these kids can transmit the virus, especially in communities where extended families tend to live together," Lamborghini stated in a press release.

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