Office closures, revenue losses & more: How the latest COVID-19 surge is affecting dentists

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, dental practices have been rocked by rising operating costs, staff recruitment challenges, office closures and declining revenue.

While these challenges may have been slightly alleviated as cases fell in 2021, dentistry was once again slammed with the surge of the omicron variant in December.

According to a December poll from the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute, 1 in 4 owner dentists raised their practice fees at the end of 2021 to maintain financial stability. In its nationwide COVID-19 impact poll for the week of Dec. 13, only 60.7 percent of dentists said their practices were open as usual, the lowest level since April 2021.

Dozens of states have begun to see a decline in omicron cases, and the surge is expected to wane in most states by mid-February, according to a Jan. 24 NBC article. 

Rajdeep Randhawa, DDS, owner of Innovative Dentistry in Rahway, N.J., said challenges from the pandemic such as CDC updates, inflation, supply chain disruptions and patient cancellations have created new struggles for dental practices.

"You get all your staff in, you pay them more than normal just to get them in, and then last minute the patients are like, 'Sorry, I cannot come'," Dr. Randhawa said. "It's very demoralizing for the staff, for the dentist and for everybody else." 

Jason Korkus, DDS, owner of Chicago-based Sonrisa Family Dental, said he has experienced rolling office closures, and that most of his staff members have been infected with COVID-19.

"Delta was definitely not as contagious," Dr. Korkus said. "We do find that a lot of patients have contracted omicron, and thus our schedules are not as strong as they usually are. We're kind of having to limit our staff engagement, where we start the day with a full schedule, have confirmations the day before, and then we're having a higher no-show rate, due to illness. So we're actually having to release staff for the day, decreasing wages."

Philip Miner, DDS, owner of San Antonio-based Miner Dental, said he has noticed a mindset shift in his patient base, with people becoming more lax with prevention efforts while also not keeping as up-to-date with health appointments. 

He said dentists need to be patient while appointment numbers pick back up, while also running their practices as efficiently as possible with infection control protocols, and make more of an effort to be a resource for COVID-19 protocols for their communities.

"It's just really a mindset in conditioning yourself to where we are and how to work your way through it," Dr. Miner said. "We need to realize not just how the patients are affected, but how our entire teams are affected. It's sometimes easy to underestimate the level of concern that some of the team have for what's going on. We need to do a better job of education throughout."

Dr. Korkus added that better education throughout the public about the low transmissibility of viruses at dental practices would help practices perform better. Despite the challenges faced by his practice, he expressed optimism about the end of the omicron surge.

"It feels stabilized almost," Dr. Korkus said. "It's hard, because you want to keep your staff employed at full potential, but when your revenue drops by 50 percent for two to three weeks, it's very difficult and it's a tough place to be in right now. I do see positive going forward."

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