March 08, 2021
Editor’s Note: Explore a year-long interactive COVID-19 and dentistry timeline on how the profession has responded to the challenges of the pandemic at ADA.org/covidtimeline.
When the ADA board of directors deliberated to recommend that dentists focus only on urgent and emergency treatments in March 2020, there were still many unknowns.
“Science was changing,” said ADA president Daniel J. Klemmedson, DDS, MD, then president-elect. “The vast majority of Americans weren’t even wearing face masks yet. “
However, the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States was accelerating, and just five days before the ADA issued its postponement recommendation, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
“At that time, public health guidelines were focused on flattening the curve – using social distancing and isolation to help ease the spread of disease and ease the burden on overwhelmed hospital systems,” said Dr Klemmedson.
It was on March 16, 2020 that the ADA Board of Directors voted to recommend that dentists postpone all care except emergencies and emergencies. As of the week of March 23, 2020, about 76% of dentists had closed their practices to everyone except emergency patients, according to the ADA Health Policy Institute.
“It was definitely a difficult time for many dental offices,” said Dr. Klemmedson.
Fast forward 12 months later, and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination in the United States is accelerating with most states, including dentists and their teams in Phase 1a to receive the vaccine. At least 26 states allow dentists to administer the vaccine.
To date, according to HPI, 99% of U.S. dental practices are reopened with patient volumes reaching about 80% of pre-pandemic levels on average.
“I believe our profession has responded well to the challenges, and I am proud that the ADA has been instrumental in the leadership of dentistry during the pandemic,” said Dr. Klemmedson. “Our results also show that dentists around the world, and not just ADA members, have benefited from the Association’s guidance and support.
Weeks before the pandemic hit dental offices, the Association was already busy preparing to offer dentists the much-needed advice and defense. In late January 2020, the ADA formed a team of scientific and public health experts and ADA staff to lead the Association’s response as more member dentists turned to the ADA with their questions.
The ADA has created a centralized hub on its website, ADA.org/virus, with answers to frequently asked questions about the disease, a working definition for dental emergencies developed by the ADA board of directors, and provisional advice on minimizing the risk of transmission of what was then described as the novel coronavirus before, during and after emergency treatment, developed under the supervision of volunteer members by representatives of the ADA Board of Directors and the ADA Scientific Affairs Council.
In April 2020, the Association created the Dental Restoration Advisory Working Group, which created and published the Interim Return to Work Orientation Toolkit to help dentists get back to work. more normal while protecting their staff, dental team, patients and themselves from COVID-19.
Over the following months, the task force released a risk assessment guide and checklist for dental facilities to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19; launched the Patient Return Resource Center, with resource templates to help dental team members communicate with patients about increased safety measures in dental offices; and created resources to help dentists stay informed about the dental regulations, recommendations and mandates of their respective states.
“Dentistry has been greatly affected by the pandemic; However, we have been fortunate to have witnessed a gradual and significant recovery over the past few months, ”said Dr Klemmedson. “By implementing the improved infection control protocols recommended by the ADA and CDC, our profession has proven its ability to function safely. “
In October 2020, an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association reported that the prevalence of COVID-19 among dentists, in June 2020, during the initial acceleration phase of the pandemic was less than 1%. An estimated 3.1% of U.S. dental hygienists contracted COVID-19 as of October 2020, according to research by the ADA and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.
“We didn’t expect a global pandemic to help us strengthen dentistry’s safety record, but I’m proud that our framework has clearly demonstrated its value,” said Dr Klemmedson.
Meanwhile, the ADA’s advocacy efforts were in full swing over the past year to ensure that federal stimulus packages provided dentists with the support they needed. It has mobilized its more than 151,900 dental advocates in grassroots action alerts to send nearly 600,000 emails to U.S. leaders during deliberations related to COVID-19 legislation.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, became law in March 2020 and included Small Business Administration loans, withdrawals from retirement accounts, paying student loans, and deferring interest.
In addition to advocating with lawmakers on behalf of the dental community, the ADA worked with key federal agencies to secure and distribute much-needed personal protective equipment as dentists returned to work. To date, approximately 64,000 dentists have received over 4.1 million KN95 masks and 835,000 gowns. In addition, the ADA currently distributes 50,000 KN95 masks and 650,000 gowns to approximately 25 community health clinics in underserved communities.
Moving forward into 2021, Dr Klemmedson said the ADA will play a role in equipping dentists with tools to educate their communities about the COVID-19 vaccine – one patient at a time.
“Dentists are trusted health care providers, and we know that our voices can go a long way in building confidence in immunization in our country,” he said.
This month, the ADA is launching a COVID-19 vaccine communication toolkit for dentists to facilitate conversations with their patients to build confidence in vaccination and to host a live webinar to guide the dental team on how to do it. The ADA has also published content intended for the public on MouthSanté.org and on social media, as well as collaborated with other health care organizations to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
“I’ve said it a few times before: COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to raise the bar for our profession,” said Dr Klemmedson, adding that what the profession has learned over the past year may positively reshaping its approach to clinical practice is moving forward.
“The pandemic has reinvigorated areas of scientific discourse that could drive clinical progress in the near future,” he said. “I believe that if dentistry applies the lessons we have learned over the past 12 months, we can position ourselves for a stronger future. Despite all its challenges, the pandemic can have a lasting positive impact if we choose to learn from it. “
The ADA will continue to monitor developments related to the authorization and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine on behalf of the profession and the public. Visit ADA.org/virus for the latest information.