A survey of nearly a thousand people who were tested for COVID-19 at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry this summer examined how the pandemic is affecting the life experiences of essential workers, including dentists.
The project looked at the important role dentistry can play in the broader healthcare system by helping to monitor public health during and beyond the current pandemic, the school said.
The researchers analyzed surveys completed online by 984 people tested for antibodies in May and June at the school. The tests were for essential workers in three categories: those who work in dentistry, those in other healthcare fields, and those in non-healthcare fields including first responders such as police and fire personnel.
“Our findings support that dental workers are as vulnerable as other essential workers to the psychological impacts of COVID-19 and that testing may help alleviate stress and anxiety associated with these pandemics,” said lead author Margherita Fontana, DDS, PhD.
“The study also supports the acceptability and satisfaction of testing done in a dental setting, highlighting a role that dentistry can play within the healthcare system by helping with testing and other surveillance methods during a pandemic,” Fontana said.
The dental providers also reported being less afraid of COVID-19 than the other groups of essential workers.
“That may be because we have long been attentive to employing procedures and personal protective equipment to safely provide care in the high-risk environments we work in,” said Fontana, who is the Clifford T. Nelson Endowed Professor of Dentistry in the Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics.
“As difficult as the pandemic is, it provides an opportunity for us to perform a valuable service for the community in the antibody tests,” said principal investigator Robert Eber, DDS, clinical professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine and director of clinical research.
“Plus, gathering the additional survey information from nearly a thousand people helps inform best practices moving forward,” said Eber, who also led a team of faculty members and staff who prepared the testing protocols, procured supplies, obtained approval to conduct the survey, and trained those who administered the tests.
“We made the decision early in the pandemic to provide a COVID antibody testing site for essential workers in our community and combined it with the research element to measure public perceptions related to the pandemic,” said coauthor and School of Dentistry dean Laurie McCauley, PhD.
“Putting this together required expertise and contributions from across the entire School of Dentistry in a very short turnaround time. The resulting data are of particular interest to dentists and dentistry, but also for the larger healthcare system, as we move forward not only during this pandemic but future health crises as well,” said McCauley.
The survey also found that:
- More than 90% of respondents said they always or frequently engaged in preventive measures such as wearing masks.
- More than 70% were sometimes, frequently, or always worried about their friends and loved ones contracting COVID-19 and of resulting financial problems, although dental workers were significantly less worried than non-dental healthcare and non-healthcare providers, perhaps because dentistry has long employed significant infection control protocols.
- For all groups, more than half of the respondents stated that the pandemic had a negative (somewhat worse or worse) impact on daily life (59%), interactions with others (65%), stress levels (66%), and enjoyment of life (56%).
- More than half of the respondents stated that the pandemic had a positive impact (same, somewhat better, or much better) on caring about one another, self-care, and exercise.
- More than two-thirds of respondents said knowing the results of an antibody test would decrease their level of stress and anxiety.
- More than 80% said a COVID-19 test received in a dental setting is acceptable, that they were “definitely” satisfied, and would “definitely” recommend it to a friend, family, or coworker.
The university conducted its antibody testing in collaboration with Henry Schein, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the University of California San Francisco.
Only asymptomatic essential workers were included in the test, which required drawing a few drops of blood with a finger prick. Most provided their survey responses as they waited for their blood samples to be tested for the antibodies, which usually took about 15 minutes. Among the 984 respondents, 21 tested positive for antibodies.
The study, “Impact of COVID-19 Life Experiences of Essential Workers Attending a Dental Testing Facility,” was published by JDR Clinical & Translational Research.