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The Ongoing Impact Of Covid-19

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), in conjunction with the American Dental Association, recently conducted a webinar to apprise interested parties on the impact of COVID-19 on the infection prevention practices and vaccine acceptance of dental hygienists, as well as the dental hygiene employment situation. A follow-up to two previous webinars, the purpose of this installment was to update the findings of a year-long study of nearly 7,000 dental hygienists in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. More than 2 years into the pandemic, it’s clear that long-lasting effects on the dental hygiene profession remain, and will likely continue into the future.

Three open access articles are available on the Journal of Dental Hygiene’s website that describe the data and survey results.1 Key findings include:

• Infection Prevention Practices. Most dental hygienist survey respondents indicate they always wear a mask and eye protection during patient care. The COVID-19 pandemic did prompt practitioners to implement specific infection prevention and control (IPC) practices to protect against the virus, such as the use of N95 respirators. However, the use of these IPC measures has subsequently declined since the height of the pandemic.

• Vaccine Acceptance. The rate of dental hygienists who have been fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 is high (75.4% as of August 20, 2021). Vaccine hesitancy was most common among dental hygienists between the ages of 26 and 39, and those who had contracted COVID-19 during the survey. Non-Hispanic Asians and individuals ages 65 and over exhibited the lowest hesitancy rates.

• Employment situation. Staffing issues in dental hygiene persist. According to the survey, less than half of the dental hygienists who left the workplace during the pandemic have returned to practice. And since 1.6% of study participants do not plan to return to practice, this indicates a possible permanent reduction of 3,300 dental hygienists nationwide.

MORE THAN 2 YEARS INTO THE PANDEMIC, IT’S CLEAR THAT LONG-LASTING EFFECTS ON THE DENTAL HYGIENE PROFESSION REMAIN, AND WILL LIKELY CONTINUE INTO THE FUTURE.

It’s interesting that the survey results indicate dental hygienists have a lower prevalence (8.8%) of COVID-19 than the general population (11.7%). This suggests that the infection control measures used during dental hygiene practice are effective, especially considering the concern about aerosol production and containment. Dental hygiene therapies are known to create aerosols, so it’s reassuring to see that the profession can be practiced safely when proper protocols are in place.

What does the future hold in light of the challenges of the past 2 years? JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, MS, PhD, AFAAOM, a lead author of the research and ADHA’s director of education and research, comments, “This research is a meaningful example of the power of alignment between the dental hygiene and dental professions. There are significant opportunities for positive change in employment practices and safer environments when we remain open and continue to work together.”

No one can predict the future. But we do know that—just as with other infectious challenges in the past—COVID-19 has changed our profession in many ways.

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

Reference

  1. Latest Articles, February 2022. Journal of Dental Hygiene. Available at: jdh.adha.org. Accessed March 13, 2022.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. April 2022; 20(4)6.

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