While previous studies have said that dentists are at high risk for acquiring COVID-19, fewer than 1% of dentists in the United States were found to be COVID-19 positive based on data collected in June 2020, according to the ADA.
That rate is far below that of other health professionals in the nation, the ADA said. Also, 99% of dentists are using enhanced infection control procedures such as screening protocols and enhanced disinfection practices when treating patients.
“This is very good news for dentists and patients,” said ADA Science and Research Institute CEO Marcelo Araujo, DDS, MS, PhD, senior author of the report. “This means that what dentists are doing—heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental team safety—is working.”
The authors of the report, comprising researchers from the ADA Science and Research Institute and Health Policy Institute in Chicago, are continuing to collect and will report infection rate data on dentists. They also have added hygienists to their ongoing survey in collaboration with the American Dental Hygienists Association.
Focusing on nearly 2,200 dentists, the report found that 82% were asymptomatic for one month prior to the survey. Also, 16.6% reported getting a COVID-19 test. Those who tested positive were not clustered in any particular geographic region.
Among those not tested, 0.32% received a probable COVID-19 diagnosis from a physician. The researchers weighted the results to align with US dentists demographically and geographically and found an estimated prevalence of 0.9% with a margin of error of 0.5%.
“Understanding the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission in the dental setting is critical to improving patient and dental team safety,” said Araujo.
“This study brings us another step forward in understanding what works. Dentists are following ADA and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, and it’s helping to keep the dental team and their patients as safe as possible,” Araujo said.
In March, The New York Times listed dentistry as one of the professions at highest risk of COVID-19 based on data from O*NET, a database maintained by the US Department of Labor. It was presumed that virus transmission could occur because of the close proximity between dental professionals and patients and because many dental procedures generate aerosols that may contain viral particles from infected individuals.
With the extremely low rate of COVID-19 infection among dentists, the ADA said, the study supports the effectiveness of the recommendations from the CDC and ADA in preventing virus transmission.
The ADA’s guidance calls for the highest level of personal protective equipment (PPE) available, including masks, goggles, and face shields. It also calls for the use of rubber dams and high-velocity suction whenever possible and hand scaling when cleaning teeth rather than ultrasonic scaling to minimize aerosols.
“The fact that dentistry was named one of the most at-risk professions for infection, but has a far lower prevalence of infection compared to other health professions, is not a coincidence,” said Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute.
“The profession has taken this issue extremely seriously, and it shows. We will continue to track the rate of COVID-19 among dentists and other facets of the pandemic affecting dentistry so it can help inform the dental profession and other industries as well,” Vujicic said.