COVID-19 & Oral Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new and unique challenges for all of us — and the oral health industry is no exception. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will reverberate for years, and many changes in the industry — increased adoption of teledentistry and the move toward value-based care (VBC), for example — are likely here to stay.
A New Normal for Dentistry
The pandemic had a profound effect on oral health care. Dental providers, given the nature of their work, are among the professions at the greatest risk of contracting the virus. Meanwhile, an estimated 6 million American adults lost their dental insurance because of a job loss or benefits change that was caused by the pandemic. Many delayed getting care due to that lack of insurance or the fear of exposure to the virus.
Everything from infection control protocols to payment models to the long-term outlook for the industry has shifted. The good news is that many of these changes will increase the industry’s resilience, equipping it to provide better care both in normal times and times of crisis.
How the Industry Responded to the Pandemic
Dental Providers Pivoted
Adoption of Teledentistry
Provider and Patient Resilience
The oral health industry showed remarkable resilience during the pandemic. Surveys found that dental providers were adapting to the new conditions by implementing new infection prevention protocols and offering more telehealth services. To help, CareQuest Institute partnered with the Organization for Safety Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP), dentistry’s global resource for infection control and safety information, to produce a suite of practical provider and patient resources.
Forward-thinking learning communities, such as CareQuest Institute’s Community Oral Health Transformation (COrHT) Initiative, allowed providers and organizations to collaborate on ideas, techniques, and best practices that will improve the oral health system.
Uneven Effects of the Pandemic
Even before the pandemic, people of color experienced lower rates of health insurance coverage, increased barriers to care, and worse health outcomes, and all of those factors were exacerbated by the pandemic. The effects have been uneven for providers, too. In one survey, 71% of oral health providers of color reported significant reductions in patient volumes since the COVID-19 pandemic began, compared to 57% of white providers.
The Path Ahead for Oral Health
A possible silver lining to the pandemic is that some of the changes implemented will move the industry forward.
Improved infection control will benefit everyone even after the pandemic ends. Teledentistry has shown that it offers many benefits — for patients, providers, and the overall health system. The pandemic also accelerated the shift toward value-based care, which can provide more financial stability for oral health providers and lead to better oral health for patients.