Less than 1 percent of dentists tested positive for coronavirus in the first months after reopening, despite fears their practices could be hotspots of infection, according to research published this week in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Researchers conducted the study in early June and asked 2,195 dentists if they had been tested for coronavirus or showed any symptoms. In all, nearly 1 percent of the respondents received a positive test result or a probable diagnosis from a doctor, according to the results published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Early in the pandemic, infectious disease experts worried that dentists could be at high risk for coronavirus. A public health order closed Alabama dental practices in April for elective procedures, but many reopened in May after the order expired.
Almost all dentists in the survey said they practiced enhanced infection control in the office, which included disinfecting surfaces, screening staff and patients for symptoms of coronavirus and regularly checking temperatures. Only about 60 percent of dentists always wore the recommended protective equipment, which includes N95 masks and googles, during procedures that generate virus-spreading aerosols. Dr. Mia Geisinger, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry and co-author of the report, said steps recommended by the American Dental Association have proven effective.
“The bottom line is that the dental profession has taken this issue extremely seriously, and it shows,” Geisinger said. “This means that what dentists are doing — heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental team safety — is working.”
The study only focused on dentists, but future research could also include dental hygienists. American Dental Association officials said they continue to collect coronavirus data. Few outbreaks at dental practices have been reported, but some patients have avoided seeing the dentist due to concerns about COVID-19 infection. As of late June, patient volume in dental offices had dropped to about 70 percent of normal levels, according to the survey.
The study is the largest to date of dentists in the United States, but authors said it might have missed some dentists who became sick and couldn’t respond. However it also showed that many dental practices have not been affected by COVID-19.
“Because of these findings and because we have no known reports of transmission of COVID-19 during the provision of dental care, we feel that resuming dental visits is important,” Geisinger said. “Treatment and prevention of dental diseases, including cavities and gum disease, improves systemic health, and emerging evidence suggests that gum disease may be linked to more severe COVID-19 symptoms. We know that dental care is essential to overall wellness, and this study allows us to feel confident that the dentist’s office is a safe place for patients and for the dental team.”
Updated at 5:34 p.m. to clarify the research was done for the Journal of the American Dental Association and not UAB