Home Dental Radiology The profession, the pandemic, and a guiding principle

The profession, the pandemic, and a guiding principle

by adminjay

We are all in this together.

This phrase is popular for times of collective challenge and especially for this moment, as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has shifted all that we once knew as “normal” and sent us all into a space of uncertainty. The disease, caused by a novel coronavirus, is at the center of ongoing discovery. A “warp speed” effort to develop a vaccine is underway, and there are emergency authorizations for treatments that have shown glimmers of promise against this potentially fatal illness.

In the meantime, we are adapting to new ways of living, working, and being. We measure our daily activities by a new yardstick of risk. We have a greater awareness of physical space, our interactions with others, what we touch, where we go, how we move, and whether we remembered to bring our face masks.

As dentists, we are also going the extra mile by adding new layers to our infection control protocols to help protect all who enter our offices—patients, staff, visitors, ourselves—from an invisible health threat. Our ethical obligations to do good and do no harm are more top of mind than ever before.

It has been said that pandemics can magnify the true state of a society. That COVID-19 took hold in the United States in 2020 provides almost too easy a metaphor; in terms of eyesight, 20/20 is a measurement of clarity and acuity. Some may argue that the 2020 pandemic has brought to focus disparities that were once peripheral—disparities in societal safety nets, health equity, and sociopolitical priorities. These topics are fodder for debate, and the ways forward can be varied and complex.

But what is clear to me—as a leader and practicing dentist—is that 2020 has shown us all what our profession is made of.

Our nation’s fight against COVID-19 has required participation from every corner of the health care community. We all, in some way, have had to make a shift.

Dentistry—an essential service and a key component of the overall health care system—has been doing its part. In adherence to American Dental Association’s (ADA) recommendations, dentists focused on urgent and emergency care early on, ensuring that no one in critical need of dental treatment went without it. The goals were clear: to support our medical colleagues by conserving much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), to keep emergency dental patients away from overextended emergency rooms, and to help mitigate disease spread through social distancing.

Organized dentistry has rallied at the local, state, and national levels in the name of guidance and advocacy. ADA volunteers and staff members have mobilized in an all-hands response, although in a way that no one could have predicted. Virtual meetings, conference calls, and working from home … a novel disease has demanded a novel way of getting things done.

But I am proud that the resultant resources (such as the ADA’s COVID-19 online content, Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit, and Hazard Assessment checklist, figure), advocacy successes (including legislative provisions that provided economic relief for dental practices), and special initiatives (like those that provide PPE to dentists) have supported our colleagues through this unprecedented crisis.

FigureThe COVID-19 Center for Dentists is among the various resources provided by the ADA. The page features digital events, tips, and other guidance for dentists navigating the pandemic.

There is also all the good that dentists have done in their own communities. I have received letters from ADA members who, in March and April, donated some of their own PPE to medical personnel on the front lines. To cheer up families shut in during a statewide stay-at-home order, 1 pediatric dentist in Texas produced fun videos for social media and kept children smiling during an otherwise scary and unpredictable time.

I would be remiss to ignore the personal and professional impact that COVID-19 has made on all of us. Some of us have been personally affected by the disease. In addition to feeling a strain on our mental health and well-being, we have worried about our patients, our teams, and our practices. Thankfully, dentistry has been treading carefully along a path to recovery. By this summer, most dental offices had reopened, and patients returned to receiving the wide array of care they needed.

Dentists are a resilient group. Our track record—how we emerged stronger after other public health crises—has long been an indicator of this. And again, in an unusual year, we have not only adapted—we have stepped up.

The crisis, however, has not yet subsided. Plenty of unknowns remain. I am not sure we are even in the middle of this story yet, let alone nearing the end. If there is anything we might know for sure in a time of COVID-19, it is that our situation can change quickly. Some of us may be weary, and some of us may be worried about what the rest of the year will bring. But of all the things we have learned thus far, I am holding on to this thought: seeing this fight through will require us to stay connected, steadfast, and focused.