Dental and dental hygiene students and staff remain among the few groups on-site nearly daily at universities and colleges across Canada. Their continued presence on campus and the nature of the dental work itself increases their risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. The Government of Canada is investing approximately $1.4 million through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), to support a pan-Canadian study investigating SARS-CoV-2 infection rates, transmission risks, and immune system responses of those working in dental clinics, laboratories, and offices in universities.
Led by Dr. Paul Allison of McGill University’s Faculty of Dentistry, and with investigators from all ten Canadian dental schools, the study will recruit 800 dental and dental hygiene students and residents, faculty, and support staff from across the country. The ten schools are located in nine cities and seven provinces, including Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
Every month for a year, participants will be asked to provide a saliva sample and complete a questionnaire. “The monthly saliva samples will allow us to test for active SARS-CoV-2 infections among the participants,” explains Dr. Allison. “Those testing positive for the virus, over the course of the study, will be asked for additional saliva samples and blood samples on which we will perform antibody tests to determine if they are showing signs of immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
“Saliva is ideal for detecting active COVID-19 infections because it is easy to collect and transport. However,” says Dr. Allison, “there remains a lot to be learned about how it can be used to detect an immune response in patients following infection or vaccination. Our study will provide useful information about the nature of immunity with samples derived from saliva.”
As well as gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of immunity following infection, the study also aims to investigate key occupational and sociodemographic factors that determine the risk of being infected with the SARS-COV-2 virus. The questionnaire will address the participants’ sociodemographic, socioeconomic, and health status. It will also ask more role-specific questions about the tasks they perform, the treatments they dispense, and the protective equipment and protocols they use. “We will also obtain data from each school about the training or working site (clinic, laboratory, office settings), infection control protocols, the numbers of students, faculty and staff on site, and their numbers of COVID-19 cases thus far,” says Dr. Allison.
“Dental and dental hygiene students and residents spend a large amount of their training caring for patients under the supervision of professors and learning in simulation labs,” says Dr. Catherine Hankins, CITF Co-Chair. “Understanding their occupational risk factors is vital to being able to ensure adequate safety measures in learning settings and will also inform optimal protection measures for dentists and dental hygienists working across Canada.”
“The results from this research study will further inform the effective infection control protocols in dental schools, and possibly more broadly to Canadian university and college campuses across the country,” says Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.
ABOUT THE COVID-19 IMMUNITY TASK FORCE
In late April 2020, the Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force with a two-year mandate. The Task Force is overseen by a Leadership Group of volunteers that includes leading Canadian scientists and experts from universities and healthcare facilities across Canada who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To that end, the CITF is supporting numerous studies to determine the extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Canada (in the general population as well as in specific communities and priority populations), understand the nature of immunity following infection, develop improved antibody testing methods, and help monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines as they are rolled out across Canada. The Task Force and its Secretariat accordingly work closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, and engages communities and stakeholders from inception through to dissemination of findings. For more information visit: www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca
ABOUT THE MCGILL UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF DENTISTRY
The McGill University Faculty of Dentistry’s mission is to advance transformative education and lifelong learning grounded in high caliber research and exceptional clinical training. Its programs foster access to integrated care, community service and engagement. The Faculty bridges fundamental, applied and translational research to dental practice using creative knowledge transfer. Through strong community partnerships as well as national and international collaboration, the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill is building a healthier future for all in promoting sustainable growth, connectivity, and innovation.