Weathering unpredictability: How the pandemic has changed dentistry

As the effects of COVID-19 stretch into a third year, dentistry is one of many industries that have had to adjust.

Here are insights from four dental leaders about how the pandemic has changed the industry:

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Roshan Parikh, DDS. President of Dntl Bar: For us at Dntl Bar, the pandemic was a double-edged sword. On one hand, in 2020, we saw our patient volume and subsequent revenue plummet to almost zero and looked at the possibility of decreasing our workforce. On the other hand, it gave us ample standstill time and forced our hand to look at new ways to rethink the patient journey. From that point, we started to look inside Dntl Bar at how technology can help augment to create a more seamless patient experience.

Michael Schwartz. Chair and CEO of Specialty Dental Brands: [Specialty Dental Brands saw] tremendous growth from 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic; we actually saw our patient volumes go up. Then our partnerships went up tremendously, [it finally hit doctors]. There's too much administrative stuff.

Bete Johnson. Senior vice president and general manager at CareCredit: Patient demand for dental services has fluctuated throughout the pandemic, often aligned with COVID infection rates. With cases currently rising, some dentists are anxiously waiting to see whether, and how much, the next wave will impact their practices. We've also heard firsthand from dentistry professionals that after the "reopening" patient surge which kept the practice busy, patient bookings have become more unpredictable and patients are canceling appointments last minute.

Peter Chien, DMD. Edgewood (Wash.) Family Dentistry: Fear of contracting COVID-19 has caused patient delays in returning to the dental office. COVID-19 has also exacerbated staffing shortages. Staff who were close to retirement or wanting a different career path have quit due to COVID-induced stress. Child care issues have also prevented staff from returning to the workforce. Economic stress has weighed heavily on dentists, likely contributing to mental health decline and career burnout. Social media stigma may be preventing full disclosure of the negative impact COVID-19 had and is having on dentists.

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