April 7, 2021
A recent study has shown dental hygienists contracted COVID-19 at a much lower rate than other health care professionals, revealing great leadership among those is the dental industry, some suggest.
The study, conducted by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the American Dental Association (ADA), found that 3.1 percent of dental hygienists have had COVID-19 based on data collected in October 2020. This is in alignment with the cumulative infection prevalence rate among dentists and far below that of other health professionals in the U.S.
Dr. James Younger, the CEO of Canada’s largest dental temping and hiring service – TempStars, said the study mirrors his anecdotal findings in Canada.
“Across North America, dental offices, as well as the dentists and hygienists, have been hypervigilant about taking the necessary precautions that prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Younger. “It reinforces my belief that the industry is blessed with responsible professionals who care not only about their patients, but the industry as a whole.”
Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., a senior author of the report, chief executive officer of the ADA Science and Research Institute and ADA chief science officer, echoed Dr. Younger’s point.
“The dental team has been following strict infection control guidance since long before COVID-19,” said Araujo. “This study is another proof point that dental care is safe for patients and dental professionals.”
According to the study, more than 99 percent of respondents reported their primary dental practice had enhanced infection prevention or control efforts in response to the pandemic. The majority of respondents wore eye protection, masks, protective coverings, and gloves during dental procedures.
The reward of all these precautions is coming, according to JoAnn R. Gurenlian, R.D.H., M.S., Ph.D., A.F.A.A.O.M., a lead author of the research and the chair of ADHA’s Task Force on Return to Work.
“We know the pandemic has impacted healthcare workers in so many ways,” said Gurenlian. “While one-quarter of the 8 percent of dental hygienists who left the workforce were laid off due to early dental office closures, others were faced with tough decisions around whether or not they could continue to work in a setting that requires direct patient care. It is a very personal decision. The good news is that the infection rate data shows that dental hygiene care can be delivered safely. And, with vaccine availability we may see more opportunities for dental hygienists to return to practice.”
Demand for Dental Hygienists Expected to Grow
According to the authors of the report, COVID-19 has led to a reduction in the dental hygienist workforce, which is likely to persist until the pandemic passes.
“The pandemic is bringing unprecedented disruption to the U.S. health care sector, including in the dental workforce,” said Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA’s Health Policy Institute. “We are continuing to examine employment patterns and the impact on the dental team, including how continued vaccine distribution will contribute to these patterns. Our research suggests once the pandemic is over, we could see employment patterns largely return to pre-pandemic levels.”
This is welcome news to Dr. Younger, who is also a practicing dentist.
“In many ways, hygienists are the backbone of the dental industry,” he said. “It is gratifying to know that their highly responsible approach in this pandemic will lead to unprecedented job opportunities in Canada and in the United States.”
To view more COVID-19 news as it pertains to the dental profession, please click here.
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