Most dental offices’ patient volume nearing normal, data suggests

A San Francisco-based oral surgeon is seeing patient volume return to near normal after pandemic-related closures shuttered three of four locations and placed the majority of staff on leave. 

Dr. Eric Scharf, DDS, told Fox News in an interview that patients began returning last fall, estimating the practice is now in the 90-95th percentile range of pre-pandemic patient volume across offices, with all staff rehired, plus some.

The U.S. dental landscape appears to be tracking similar trends, with the latest polling from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute indicating a greater proportion of dental practices reporting as open and business as usual. As of May 17, 60.9% of 1,712 respondents said that the office was open with business as usual, and 38.4% reported open offices but lower-than-normal patient volume.

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In a statement to Fox News, the ADA said in part, “96% of adults are comfortable visiting the dentist right now or have already done so, and patient volume in private practices was at 86% of pre-COVID-19 levels, nationally. Patient volume has remained at high levels for the last two months.”

Scharf specifically noted a high degree in comfort among patients, with a 35% uptick in appointments since October. Additional ADA research suggests the risk of COVID-19 transmission at dental offices is low, with a recent study finding 2.6% of dentists contracted the virus by November 2020. Results stemmed from online surveys administered to 2,196 U.S. dentists in private practice or public health.

What’s more, the average COVID-19 incidence rate over a six-month period was 0.5%. Early pandemic office closures soon led to significant investment in equipment removing aerosols in an effort to cut infection risk. Scharf predicts the costly equipment will be around for the long term, suggesting it adds a level of comfort for patients and staff.

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“Right now, it would be sort of foolish not to come in for your regularly scheduled preventative maintenance treatment,” Scharf said. “Sometimes we underestimate the value of preventative care, [which can fend off] infections, gum disease, pain and cavities.”

ADA data suggests many patients attempted home remedies for dental issues during the pandemic, such as pulling teeth. Some dentists reported an uptick in patients’ tooth fractures amid the pandemic, attributing the issues to stress, “COVID-induced nightmares to ‘doomsurfing’ to ‘coronaphobia,” per the New York Times, and added that it’s clear the ongoing pandemic is causing anxiety, thereby affecting mental health. 

“The mouth is tied to the body, I think we know that, and there’s much more literature coming out linking periodontal or gum disease to heart issues or other problems so some people just kind of think that teeth are teeth, but they’re part of your body too, the oral cavity,” Scharf said.

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