Over the past six months, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across practically every industry around the world - and the dental sector is certainly no exception. For dental practitioners in Australia, the coronavirus outbreak has given rise to significant changes in the way we operate our businesses, provide dental treatment, and deal with patients on a daily basis.
At the time of writing, restrictions for Australian dental practices remain at Level 1, a downgrade from the Level 3 restrictions imposed earlier this year. And while it’s impossible to predict what the coming months may hold - other than the fact that further changes are inevitable - the effects of the global pandemic can already be seen in a number of ways across our industry.
Perhaps the first and most obvious place to look when considering the impact of COVID-19 on the dental industry is within dental practices themselves. Despite the easing of restrictions across Australia, additional infection control precautions remain in place to minimise the risk of virus transmission.
These measures range from additional questions and advice regarding COVID-19 for patients booking appointments to social distancing in waiting rooms, extra hygiene practices such as the mandatory use of hand sanitiser for incoming patients, and additional contact and droplet precautions intended to prevent transmission of infectious agents
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) provides a full list of guidance and resources for dental professionals on how to operate in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in March, concerns over the spread of COVID-19 led to the early closure of ADX20 Sydney - Australia’s largest dental exhibition. The impact of the pandemic on global industry events will continue to be seen, with limits on gatherings coupled with major restrictions on travel having huge implications on events and expos.
Similarly, business travel is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels, as people rethink the need to both travel long distances and engage in physical interactions. Virtual meetings have quickly become the ‘new normal’, with the power of modern technology proving a convenient substitute for in-person communications.
As with many industries, the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed have led to many business owners reviewing their business models and considering whether certain practices necessarily need to return to pre-COVID ‘normality’.
For example, an increase in people working from home due to self-isolation requirements may see this becoming a more widely-adopted practice for dental businesses even after restrictions are eased, particularly as many look to reduce expenditure during these uncertain economic times.
When Level 3 restrictions for dental practices came into place in March - effectively limiting dental treatments to emergencies which didn’t involve the generation of an aerosol - dental practitioners were faced with the challenge of how to assess the requirements of emergency treatment without risking virus transmission.
The solution for many came in the form of ‘teleconsults’, most often using video conferencing technology such as Zoom or Skype. Even with dental treatment provision returning to a more normal level, the option of teleconsultations may become more mainstream in our post-COVID world. West Australian-based health insurer HIF now offers benefits for teledentistry consultations, and it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting practice restrictions have caused a great deal of stress and anxiety for many workers involved in the dental industry, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead remains a concerning prospect.
In response to these challenging times, the Dental Board of Australia (DBA) is funding a national health and wellbeing support service for dental practitioners, due to be launched this month. Dental Practioner Support will be the first national, 24/7 telephone and online service offering support for dental practitioners, as well as dental students, educators, employers, and family members.
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