The pandemic has been a turbulent ride for the dental industry.
Practices across Canada and the United States faced new challenges, and as a result, dental professionals adapted to meet the demands of a society dealing with the pandemic.
Dentists, registered dental hygienists, and other practice staff kept their eyes and ears wide open as ever-changing policies dictated how and when dental care could be provided.
Naturally, there were stumbling blocks along the way. But dental professionals took these difficulties and turned them into learning opportunities. And the industry has come out the other side of COVID-19 more knowledgeable and passionate than before.
With vaccine rollouts promising greener pastures, it’s the perfect time to take stock of the lessons dental practice owners have learned over the course of the pandemic.
1. PPE Has Proven Its Worth
Given the abundance of aerosols travelling through the air in any examination room, there were immediate concerns about dental offices being vulnerable to super-spreading.
It was an understandable concern shared by clients and practitioners alike. Aerosols are inevitable when you’re working with high-speed equipment and saliva, blood, or plaque. For all we knew, everyone and everything could have been contagious.
Yet, as a dentist, you’ve always taken steps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in your practice. You’ve been trained from day one at dental school about PPE and other necessary precautions.
Those very same safety precautions that were already part of your everyday routine proved highly effective when protecting against COVID-19. As a result, dental offices’ transmission rates have remained low throughout the pandemic.
Gowns, caps, gloves, and N95/KN95 masks saved the day. It won't be easy to take them for granted again.
2. Leaning into Technology
During the initial shutdown in spring 2020, 25% of dentists relied on teledentistry. Those who invested in teledentistry tools before the crisis gave themselves a leg up once restrictions took hold.
Of course, there was no predicting a pandemic. But these types of technologies keep you prepared for worst-case scenarios so that patients can continue to receive care, no matter what.
Dentists have learned to continue embracing teledentistry. Furthermore, they’ve discovered the value of staying informed about technology trends throughout the industry.
Who knows what the future holds and what type of tech you’ll need? You can't be prepared unless you stay informed.
3. The Industry Needs Strong Leaders
The pandemic was a scary time for everyone, including dental practice owners. But as a leader, you have a responsibility to be empathetic, honest, and available to your team.
Everybody working at the office was going through their own challenges and facing their own fears. Strong dental leaders always kept that in mind, prioritizing the health and wellbeing of their teams.
Moreover, a trustworthy dental leader knows their duty to the community, keeping them safe along with employees. Such leadership shined while setting up COVID-19 protocols and maintaining a safe working space.
Faith Barreyro, DMD said it well in an interview with the Canadian Dental Association, where she discussed the challenges of maintaining a safe dental practice.
“As a new practice owner, I had the challenge of gaining the trust of my team members as well as my patients during COVID,” she said. “We’ve all shown patience and understanding toward each other during this time because we recognize that we’re all in this together.”
It is clear that the pandemic has reminded practice owners of the importance of transparency and empathy in leadership.
4. Emphasizing Wellness
A core principle of wellness is the mind-body connection.
Emotions often lead to physical symptoms, some of which can be oral. For instance, nearly half of dentists have seen an increase in bruxism and fractured teeth since the end of lockdowns.
Dentists are often the first healthcare providers to find and identify signs of stress, and as such, wellness initiatives should be part of every practice in a post-COVID world.
This will offer patients a more three-dimensional approach to their well-being, improving their overall quality of life.
“Some patients mentioned that our office was the first public place they had been to since shelter-in-place,” said Zoey Huang, DDS, speaking to the CDA. “In our conversations with our patients, I realized that it’s more imperative than ever to understand proper self-care and stick to healthy daily routines, healthy eating, ergonomics, healthy emotions and mental health.”
5. A Unified Dental Industry is a Stronger Dental Industry
There are many unsung heroes of the pandemic. Among them are the Canadian and American Dental Associations.
As the COVID-19 guidelines changed throughout the first year of the pandemic, both the CDA and ADA offered important guidance to dentists across both nations.
By April 2020, the ADA had already formed an Advisory Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery. Soon after, a toolkit was released to help dentists get their practices up and running during the pandemic while protecting patients, staff, and themselves.
As the pandemic persisted, more resources were made available by the CDA and ADA. These efforts kept dentists informed and safe.
The constant updates, lobbying, and advocacy led to the dental industry growing stronger, more unified, and able to thrive despite COVID-related boundaries.
COVID-19 restrictions will steadily be lifted with vaccines rolling out, and dental practices will enjoy the related benefits. However, dentists won’t forget the lessons they learned along the way.
After all, if there’s one final lesson the pandemic taught you, it’s to take nothing for granted. So, being ready to adapt will remain a top priority.