Unlike hospitals and other essential medical practices, which have remained open throughout the coronavirus pandemic to treat patients, dental practices were instructed to immediately shut down operations in March. Office closures caused unprecedented layoffs and revenue loss, leaving dentists unsure of how to handle the consequences of COVID-19.
Financial Relief Has Become a Necessity For Many
Dental practices face four main expenses every month: wages, rent, supplies, and labs. Some of those expenses, including wages, supplies, and labs, were eliminated during the shutdown due to layoffs and lack of patients. With the exception of rent and ongoing bills, some dental offices managed to pare down costs in order to survive.
Others have relied upon economic stimulus from the government. Fortunately, banks are also working closely with dental offices who need help navigating their existing debts with little to no revenue.
According to a poll taken by the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, “Financial Relief for Dentists” is the top concern for dental practices, with more than 62% of 19,000 dentists choosing it as the issue at the top of their mind.
Evolving Guidelines for Patient and Dentist Safety
As of mid-June, many dental offices are finally reopening their doors and welcoming patients, but with strict safety guidelines and adjusted schedules.
Dentists have the unique responsibility of working in the mouths of their patients, making the use of face masks during treatment impossible. As a result, dentists must institute additional safety protocols to ensure the virus doesn’t spread during or after dental procedures.
These are a few of the most common changes patients can expect to encounter during their next visit to the dentist:
- Social distancing between patients in the waiting room
- No magazines, toys, or other items available in waiting room
- Patients required to wear face masks before and after appointment
- Use of disinfecting mouthwash before and after any procedure
- Fewer appointments scheduled per day
Another change, much to the surprise of patients: infection control fees.
New “Infection Control” Fees Tackle Extra Costs
The only way for dentists to successfully reopen in the coronavirus era requires costly investments in infection control measures and PPE equipment.
“We already knew what we’d have to do,” said Dr. Harvey Passes, DDS, owner of Passes Dental Care in Great Neck, New York. “The concept of sterilization is not new to us. We have been doing it our entire careers with the same disinfectants that kill the coronavirus. We are prepared.”
Yet those disinfection efforts come at a steep cost, which explains why many dentists feel they have no choice but to charge patients an extra fee to cover the cost of masks, face shields, gowns, air purifiers, and other infection control resources. Some now charge an extra $10 or $25 for each patient visit.
Fortunately, some insurance companies have agreed to reimburse extra fees for COVID-related infection control. United Concordia, which insures 9 million members nationwide, agreed to pay dentists $10 per fully insured patient per visit through May and June to offset the cost of PPE equipment.
As one dental chain explained, “We are not making money off this. This is just to sustain us so we are not bleeding out cash.”