Given dentists’ role as essential health care workers, the American Dental Association (ADA) is advocating for dentists to be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

ADA Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin stressed the importance of this in remarks to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine panel on September 2. Dr. O’Loughlin noted that a safe and effective vaccine will be in high demand when it is released to the public. “We are, therefore, pleased that the National Academies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are looking ahead to ensure the most vulnerable at-risk groups — including dentists and other essential health care workers, high-risk Latino and Black communities and the medically compromised elderly — are allowed early access to the vaccine,” Dr. O’Loughlin said.

Dr. O’Loughlin and ADA President Chad Gehani also co-authored a letter to the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus. In it, they reaffirmed the need to include dentists among those granted first access to the vaccine, and they thanked the Committee for its thoughtful consideration: “Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier 1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing diseases, and possibly even save lives.”

They also cite a study indicating that 15% of Americans still do not feel comfortable visiting the dentist without a medical breakthrough related to COVID-19. This increases concerns: delaying routine dental care raises the potential to miss early warning signs for serious infections or oral cancers.

The letter from Drs. O’Loughlin and Gehani comes about a month after the ADA filed a resolution to declare dentists essential workers during public health emergencies. The House of Delegates will consider the resolution in a meeting in October. While some federal government agencies already consider dentists essential workers, the policy states the ADA will urge state governments to give dentists the same designation.

In early August, the World Health Organization recommended that patients delay routine dental care, advice with which the ADA “respectfully yet strongly” disagreed. “There is nothing routine about dental care,” Drs. O’Loughlin and Gehani wrote in the recent letter. “Beyond treating immediate pain, dentists evaluate, diagnose, prevent and treat diseases that can be life-changing or even life-threatening.”

That is why the ADA believes it is essential for dentists to have early access to a COVID-19 vaccine. Oral health is a pivotal piece of overall health, and the vaccine will add one more layer of protection for both patients and dentists.