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The Impact of COVID-19 on Dentistry

Dentistry is facing its darkest hour yet, with the growth and spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Dental surgeons are at the highest risk of contracting and transmitting the Coronavirus, alongside paramedics, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Dental clinics across the country have been shut for over two months. With the pandemic still on the growth curve, there is no hope of revival anytime soon, compounded by zero earnings by dental practitioners and staff at clinics.

In a virtual roundtable discussion at ETHealthWorld moderated by Shahid Akhter, Editor, ETHealthWorld, the discussion focused on the impact of COVID-19 on dentistry across the globe and the challenges dentists are facing. The roundtable panelists included Professor Dr. Srivats Bharadwaj (Founder Chairman & CEO of Vatsalya Dental, Bangalore), Dr. Kishore Shetty (Practicing Dentist and Consultant at Public Health Inst. of Metropolitan Education, Chicago), Dr. Alison Dougal (Director, Special Care Dentistry Programme, Trinity College, Dublin) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Pnar Kiymet Karataban (Head of Paediatric Dentistry Dept, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul).

This article recaps the salient arguments and perspectives discussed on the webinar, particularly in the Indian context. A very interesting discussion for dentists, healthcare professionals and the academia, you can watch the complete recording of the webinar at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVNbpAZMm-w&feature=youtu.be

Challenges and Impact of Covid-19

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the dental industry, and with the pandemic still on the growth curve, and it is difficult to ascertain the extent and severity of its long-term impact at this point of time. The professional future of dental practitioners and the sustenance of their practices is a serious concern. Wages and clinic rentals have to be accounted for every month even though there have been no revenues, causing a huge socio-economic impact.

Practicing is a challenge as most of the practices including dental colleges and teaching institutions are not compatible with government norms and regulations on COVID-19. The fraternity needs to be very careful when it comes to practicing dentistry in this environment as even a small slip in following protocols and taking precautions can turn out to be very expensive. With the majority of the practices in India failing to adhere to strict hygiene protocol, sanitization and sterilization at dental practices are widely absent, further increasing the risks in performing emergency dental procedures. Dentistry today needs a complete structural change to prevent doctors as well as patients from getting infected.

Quality Care: Improving Dental Care

When we talk about adapting structural changes in dentistry to meet present requirements, dentists and their assistants must mandatorily use quality and complete personal protective gear as mandated by the CDC at all times. However, there is a huge cost implication in procuring preventive gear including respirators etc., and the installations of HVAC A/C filters, single-use chair covers etc. Dental care clinics will require newly structured and redesigned clinics with huge investment in the right equipment to maintain strict hygiene and sterilization. If some practitioners choose to compromise on the quality of PPE used or sanitation maintained in their clinics, the resulting impact on societal health will be catastrophic.

Apart from the significant monetary investments required to continue safe dental practice, there is also the equally important issue of proper training and process management in following these protocols to ensure minimal risk to patients and dentists alike, with no knowledge at the moment of how long COVID 19 will continue for.

There is a need for cultural changes in the approach to dentistry, adopt tele mentoring, and shift focus to preventive dental care. Preventive procedures can curb the risk of cross-infection from aerosols, (liquid and solid particles suspended in the air for protracted periods) and splatter (a mixture of air, water, and/or solid substance) which poses a serious health risk to dental practitioners even under regular circumstances. The pandemic has brought about an opportunity to shift to minimally invasive techniques such as ART, ACT which uses Silver Diammine Fluoride etc., which were earlier a huge challenge to introduce. This can also help in reducing the cost of treatment.

Creating Awareness: The Need for Communication

Communication has become extremely important in an era of information overload from various sources. Communication and education are required at different levels – between dentists, between dentists and allied health care professionals, and communication to patients and communities. Dentists need to find the right way of articulating knowledge and information to prevent fear-mongering amongst patients, and create awareness by being honest and transparent.

Healthcare professionals can consider forming a digital hybrid learning platform to create awareness and regulate important information through social media platforms or by conducting webinars in order to influence more people positively. Also, there is a need for tele mentoring in dentistry to curb panic and fear and communicate facts. The pandemic has given us an opportunity of educating the masses about preventive care which was earlier considered as a sidebar in treatment. One should also not underestimate the patient’s knowledge and ability, and their right to seek all relevant information.

Post-COVID: A New Normal

There is a need for knowledge leveling, particularly in the Indian context. It is imperative to focus on a single, authentic source of information and truth, that provides accurate guidance on what needs to be done. Dentistry is also divorced from mainstream medical sciences and this needs to be addressed by providing dentists with a basic degree in medicine before specializing in dentistry – equipping them better to deal with all kinds of basic medical emergencies.

The coming together of dentistry and medicine, pharma and IT in the country will make a huge positive impact in providing essential, acute emergency dental services to the masses. Practitioners are adapting to the idea of tele dentistry globally which can be incredibly useful for triaging and will also reduce unnecessary face-to-face time with patients. However, this needs to be regulated and also remunerated. This model, if adopted in India, can help save time, effort and money significantly – providing emergency dental access to the masses.

Secondly, an outcome-based fee model for services can be a game changer for the future of dentistry, giving people the flexibility of paying when they can, while ensuring treatment and care is not compromised on. This can be a better model instead of restricting to specific costs for particular procedures to be paid upfront.

Lastly, the government should come forward to collaborate with the dental and medical fraternity to ensure dentists get all the help they need to tide through these extraordinary circumstances.


News Courtesy : ET Healthworld


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