Returning to Practice
The COVID-19 pandemic has made a lasting impact on the dental community and the return to practice. Although the number of cases in Ontario have been declining, we are still far from being completely COVID-19 free. The restrictions that were put into effect by the government for the re-opening of dental offices changed how Dentists would have to return to practice.
RCDSO Immediate Response to COVID-19
At the beginning of the pandemic, on March 15th, 2020, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) came out with the following statement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: “The RCDSO strongly recommends that all non-essential and elective dental services should be suspended immediately. Emergency treatment should continue (RCDSO, 2020).”
This guideline was created in response to concerns from Dentists regarding the risk for patients and staff by keeping dental practices open (RCDSO, 2020). There were also concerns regarding health care providers not being able to obtain enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to treat COVID-19 cases (RCDSO, 2020). These concerns combined with an increase in COVID-19 cases required serious action and the decision to only allow dental emergencies were put into effect. The call for physical distancing also greatly affected a field in which close contact has been essential.
The Impacts of Immediate Closure on Dental Practices
Undoubtedly, one of the most significant effects of the current pandemic on dental practices is that immediate closure meant an unexpected loss of revenue. A study done by the American Dental Association (ADA) shows the impact that COVID-19 had on patient volume and revenue for dental offices across the United States. This study shows that 79% of closed dental practices are seeing emergency patients, while 18% of dental practices are not seeing any patients (ADA, 2020). COVID-19 has made many practices stop providing continued dental care and Teledentistry can help solve this problem by allowing Dentists to provide consultations and follow up appointments virtually.
The dramatic decrease in patient volume for dental offices due to mandatory closures directly affects office revenue. The study also asked Dentists how their patient volume compared to what was typical of their practice, and 84.3% said that patient volume was less than 5% of their normal patient volume (ADA, 2020). As a result of this significant decrease in patient volume, 80% of Dentists said revenue during their office closures were less than a quarter of what they were pre COVID-19 (ADA, 2020). Overall, the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases resulted in the immediate closure of dental practices worldwide, leaving an impact on revenue for dental offices.
Return to Practice and Managing the Risk of Infection
After a steady decline, and now plateau in the number of COVID-19 cases, the Ministry of Health made the following revision on May 26th, 2020: “Dentists can now provide in-person care for all deferred, non-essential, and elective services, in addition to emergency and urgent care (RCDSO, 2020).” The RCDSO also released a detailed handbook on how to manage infection risks during in-person dental care.
Before dentists return to practice, many precautionary measures must be in place. COVID-19 has changed how offices prepare for patients, provide dental care, how they manage PPE, office setup, and sanitation protocols. Among these changes, the RCDSO suggests that dentists use PPE appropriately to prevent unnecessary use of supplies, while N95 respirators should be put aside for aerosol-generating procedures. Social distancing should be maintained as much as possible, and operatories must be disinfected between each appointment. For a full list of requirements, protocols, and suggestions, see the RCDSO’s document titled “COVID-19: Managing Infection Risks During In-Person Dental Care”.
The Importance of Teledentistry when Returning to Practice
The impact of COVID-19 on the dental community demonstrated the importance of Teledentistry during office closures and going forward. It was strongly advised by the RCDSO, that dentists consider providing Teledentistry for patients throughout the pandemic for continued quality dental care, remotely. Teledentistry calls between the dentist and the patient allow for dental care while still maintaining social distancing guidelines and PPE for true dental emergencies.
Using a Teledentistry platform, such as CONNECT2D TELEDENTISTRY for returning to practice, will help minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and keep all patients, staff, and dentists safe, and in turn, flatten the curve to keep our communities safe. Managing the amount of missed appointments and the backlog of patients due to no preventative care can be made easier with a secure platform that can schedule virtual consultations. Scheduling virtual appointments will save chairside time for patients needing in-office treatment, thus increasing office revenue while covering a large patient base at the same time. Overall, Teledentistry creates a better patient experience and reduces patient attrition due to wait times or delayed appointments.
A message to all dentists in Ontario – COVID-19 Pandemic. (2020, March 15). Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.rcdso.org/en-ca/rcdso-members/dispatch-magazine/articles/5286
Nasseh, K., & Vujicic, M. (2020). Modeling the Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. Dental Spending (Rep.). American Dental Association. doi:https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIbrief_0420_1.pdf?la=en
Returning to practice: Planning and considerations. (2020, April 28). Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.rcdso.org/en-ca/rcdso-members/dispatch-magazine/articles/5339
Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario. (2020). COVID-19: Managing Infection Risks During In-Person Dental Care [Brochure]. Ontario: Author. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://az184419.vo.msecnd.net/rcdso/pdf/standards-of-practice/RCDSO_COVID19_Managing_In_Person_Care.pdf