The Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO) says that it respectfully but strongly disagrees with the recent recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that patients should delay routine dental care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. North American Dental Group and Pacific Dental Services similarly have taken issue with the WHO’s advice.
“The World Health Organization’s very own remarks cited the ‘unknown’ nature of their dangerous claim. Dental clinics must remain open for both routine and emergent care throughout this pandemic,” said ADSO president Emmet Scott.
“I understand that the WHO speaks to a global audience. In the US, we have zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 transmissions between a patient and clinical staff during a dental procedure,” said Dr. Jack Dillenberg, dean emeritus at AT Stills University, Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health.
“Dentists are trained at infection control. This is not new in this country,” said Dillenberg. “The link between oral health and systemic health is clear. To imply that oral care is routine and unnecessary ignores decades of scientific research and is a disservice to patients.”
“Dental professionals across the country have increased the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during this pandemic to keep patients safe,” said Scott.
“After an unjustifiable period when dental clinics were closed for months, it is important that practices remain open to provide essential oral healthcare,” Scott said.
The ADSO noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have acknowledged that dental care is an essential part of a patient’s overall health. Also, the ADSO said that it will continue working with its members and the dental industry to ensure that dental clinics can remain open to provide essential care needed to ensure overall health and well-being.
North American Dental Group
North American Dental Group (NADG), a DSO with more than 230 dental practices in 15 states and a member of the ADSO, issued its own statement disagreeing with the WHO recommendations.
“Dentists across the country have been treating patients for months. There is no evidence that routine dental care has contributed to the spread of this virus,” said NADG cofounder, chief medical officer, and practicing dentist Dr. Andrew Matta.
“In fact, dentists across the NADG network have put in place exhaustive new safety procedures, including head-to-toe personal protective equipment for staff and thorough sanitizing of evaluation rooms for patients to ensure a safe environment that minimizes the risk for everyone,” said Matta.
Furthermore, Matta said that urging patients to delay routine oral care could lead to deteriorating dental complications that may also impact a person’s overall health.
“Routine care is often preventive care, and it is extremely important in helping to avoid oral infections and diseases, which could impact a person’s quality of life,” said Matta. “This pandemic has proven that it is time for dentistry to be recognized as a form of essential healthcare.”
In July, NADG commissioned a national survey in which 60% of respondents said they were comfortable visiting a dentist for a routine cleaning of checkup, which was more than double the results of a similar NADG survey from April. Also in the July survey, 64% of respondents said they believe their dentist knows how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which was up from 42% in the April survey.
“We have not taken lightly the immense importance of bolstering our safety and cleaning procedures at all of our dental practices across a dozen states. Our dentists and teammates are comfortable coming to work, and patients have noticed our sincere steps to ensure they get the care they need in the safest environment possible,” said Matta.
“We’ve implemented these additional safety measures to ensure that our patients feel confident and comfortable coming into our offices. No one should be placed in a position in which they are encouraged or forced to delay the oral care they need,” said Matta.
NADG said that it has been a leader in response to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The DSO said that it established advanced infection control procedures and diagnostic screenings upon reopening practices in May and June after the pandemic forced dental office shutdowns.
Also, NADG said that it spearheaded an effort to expand the scope of services for dentists to administer COVID-19 tests and help the nation increase testing capacity. By assisting with testing initiatives, NADG said, dentists can represent another access point for patients who need medical attention while helping to reduce the stress on overburdened hospitals.
“It is safe to visit your dentist,” Matta said. “Because of our commitment to safety and best-in-class care, many of our patients are making appointments to ensure they receive proper oral care, even during this pandemic. Dental care is essential care. We must make sure patients retain the option to get the oral care they want and need.
Pacific Dental Services
Pacific Dental Services (PDS), a DSO with more than 800 offices across the United States and a founding member of the ADSO, strongly but respectfully disagrees with the WHO’s guidelines as well.
Calling dentistry a vitally important element of the healthcare system, PDS said that good oral health helps improve individual defenses against the novel coronavirus and that poor oral hygiene has been linked to COVID-19 complications, particularly in patients with diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease. It is therefore critical for dental offices to remain open, PDS said.
“In healthcare, advice should be based on facts, not fear. To tell patients to ignore their oral health is irresponsible,” said Dillenberg.
“The connection between the mouth and the body is not just common sense. The impact they have on one another is alarming,” said Charles Rodgers, DDS, vice president of clinical quality at PDS.
“Dental practitioners play a crucial role with overall health, and patients must be able to continue with routine checkups and receive their oral health treatment needs,” said Rodgers.
PDS said that dentists and dental leaders in the United States have launched a nationwide campaign, Keep Dentistry Open for Patients, urging state health and elected officials to keep dental practices open as COVID-19 cases continue to spike around the country.
With some state health officials and governors considering new stay-at-home orders, PDS said, dentists are signing a petition asking the leaders in their states to consider the essential services that dental offices provide their communities.
Dentists supported by PDS as well as all dentists throughout the country have always taken precautions to ensure the safety of their patients and themselves, PDS said. They also have adopted additional safety measures to protect their patients, staffs, and themselves from the coronavirus pandemic, PDS added.
According to recent reports, PDS continued, many patients are suffering from untreated dental issues due to fears of entering a dental office. Yet the health consequences of delaying needed care are an even greater risk, making it imperative for dental offices to remain open, PDS said.