COVID-19 is a significant disruptor for our generation, altering the way dentistry is practiced. Early in the pandemic, dental practitioners and insurers were primarily reacting to events and trying to understand the implications of the new environment. The top three reactions during the first month were:
- Dental providers began focusing only on patients with acute needs, guided by definitions of emergency care provided by the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Teledentistry services were launched by many practices and encouraged by insurers, including Delta Dental of Virginia. Delta Dental surveyed dentists providing emergency and teledentistry services and shared a directory of responses on our website.
- Dental providers prioritized taking care of their teams and sought sources of financing to ensure future liquidity. Delta Dental of Virginia provided support through grants to individual dental practices, safety net clinics, community organizations and toothbrush distribution for school lunch programs.
Today, dental providers are focused on re-opening their practices and keeping teams and patients safe. Infectious disease control is the primary concern, with the identification of new processes and protocols, as well as procuring needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Delta Dental continues to support network dentists in these efforts through its Provider Assistance Program and by working to ensure continued access to benefits. Looking forward to the summer of 2020, we expect the next concerns around our new normal may be with:
- Antigen and antibody testing and what role dental practices will have in testing.
- Additional questions will emerge regarding office credentialing (for example a CLIA waiver), and whether testing will be covered under medical or dental benefits.
- Dental providers are working through new patient flow and scheduling and adjusting their procedural mix in the short and the long term. Initial focus will be on addressing unmet needs from the shutdown.
- Questions remain around when dental hygiene and routine preventive care will ramp back to normal.
There are also a great many unknowns, especially as dentists and benefit providers attempt to predict and track patient behavior.
- How quickly will patients be willing to revisit their dentists?
- What impact will the current economy have on dental practice?
- There continues to be ongoing concerns about coronavirus itself, a potential second and third spike, and how we should best prepare for the future.
Delta Dental of Virginia will continue to look for ways to support Virginia dentists and their patients, our members and other partners as we look to meet the oral health needs of all Virginians.
Michael D. Weitzner, DMD, MS
Dental Director, Delta Dental of Virginia