Severe Impact of Pandemic on Dentists and Patients in the USA

More than 75% of dentists in America have a private practice, and their income is directly dependent on how many patients they treat.

Dentist working (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Dentist working
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster for dentists as well as their patients. More than 75% of dentists in America have a private practice, and their income is directly dependent on how many patients they treat.
A recent article concluded that the coronavirus is mutating and has 30 different strains now. Therefore, how the pandemic will evolve in the coming months and its impact on medical practitioners and patients remains unclear.
Due to the very nature of dentistry, both dentists and patients are prone to get infected from each other.  If a dentist gets infected with the virus and remains asymptomatic (permanently or for a while), he will likely continue to practice without knowing that he himself is now a carrier of the virus. There is a high probability of him infecting his patients. Even the supporting staff like the receptionist, accountant, and office manager are at risk.

Problems that dentists are facing

1.  Most dental offices are currently closed, some open only for emergencies. Even those practices which are open are experiencing low patient footfall.
2. Senior citizens who require dental procedures are avoiding dental visits entirely since they fall in a high-risk category. Similarly, parents are postponing dental treatment of kids. Both age-groups are usually the largest revenue generators for any dentist.
3.  With people losing jobs at a record pace, many will lose their dental coverage too. It means many patients who would have come otherwise, will not come back anytime soon.
4.  Dentists offer payment plans to many patients, and many have stopped paying due to the ongoing financial crunch. This has a direct impact on dentists. Many are hiring a collection agency for dental offices, but they risk tarnishing their reputation. Moreover, collection agencies charge a fee on any account that they recover money.
5. Expenses have not come down for dental offices. The salary of staff, office rent, dental malpractice insurance, interest on student loans, utilities, etc. is something they are still paying despite revenue loss. Many are delaying mortgage payments and deferring their student loan payments.
6. Many dentists have reduced staff in the form of layoff and reduced hours, but once more patients start to come in the future, they will face staffing problems again.
7. Dentists have to purchase additional protective equipment and put safety measures in place to protect their staff and patients. This may include buying PPE kits, hand sanitizers, sterilization, high-quality masks, use disposable items, and gloves.
 8. Many dentists on H1-B visas have lost their jobs due to low demand and must find new jobs often at lower salaries. American Dentist Association (ADA) has requested the immigration department (USCIS), to allow the unemployed and furloughed dentists to stay in the country for a longer time.
9.  Telemedicine in the field of dentistry has limited benefits. Therefore, dentists cannot remotely treat patients unless it is a case of minor tooth-ache.
10. Guidelines and recommendations issued by the federal government, states, ADA, and CDC are not always easy to follow, especially when they keep changing during the pandemic.
Not only the dentists but even the hospitals in the U.S. are also facing major problems and many may close without federal assistance.

Problems Faced by Patients

1.  Many patients are losing jobs, including the dental coverage that they had. They may not see a dentist any time soon and may have to bear the pain until the conditions become normal.
2. Delaying the dental procedure means only one thing; your dental problems are getting bigger. Maybe that cavity on one tooth may infect another tooth also. They are looking at a larger dental bill in the future.
3. Pain may not just be physical but causes a great deal of mental stress as well. This may negatively impact their ability to perform other tasks and daily chores.
While the patients are forced to live in pain, dentists have their own set of problems.

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