Like many industries and sectors, dental school clinics in the U.S. were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those impacts extended to dental students, community members, faculty, finances and more. A recent study, “Operational and financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. dental school clinics,” assessed the effect of COVID-19 on dental school-based clinics. The paper was written by Omar Escontrías et al. and is available for free in the Journal of Dental Education.

To gather the results, the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) surveyed 67 dental schools in the U.S. in the last few months of 2020. The survey asked respondents to compare two time periods — April to December 2019 and April to December 2020 — to gauge how the pandemic affected clinic operations and finances.

The results revealed that COVID-19 had a significant impact on clinics’ patient volumes, revenues and budgets. The pandemic led to a 50% drop in the number of patient visits and 42% decline in clinic revenue. The reduced patient volume was statistically significant across all age groups. Among patients with special needs, the change was even more pronounced with a 64% decline. Plus, many of the schools reported clinic closures during the first months of the pandemic.

“This decline may further exacerbate oral health disparities for patients who rely on the dental care offered in one of the 67 dental school clinics,” wrote Escontrías et al.

The study also reported the pandemic’s impact on infection control expenditures; community outreach and community-based patient care; and clinic personnel. All the dental schools surveyed experienced higher rates of layoffs and resignations among clinical faculty and staff compared to nonclinical faculty and staff.

“The pandemic’s impact on clinical faculty and staff may pose future challenges to clinical dental pedagogy and training the next generation of dentists to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the authors wrote.

The research found a clear impact on dental school clinics, dental students and community members. The clinics suffered financially, the students missed out intellectually and many members of the community were not able to receive important oral care for several months. Patients also lost exposure to further public health guidance and infection control best practices at dental offices. For the students, some of the third- and fourth-year members may struggle to complete the required clinical hours due to closures and reduced clinic capacity during the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, the paper notes that dental school clinics “rose to the challenge of providing comprehensive oral health services” to people in need during 2020.

To learn more about this study, visit the Journal of Dental Education.

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