Changes needed to safely expand dental care amid COVID-19 crisis should become permanent.
We know there is no one size fits all solution to providing care in a post-COVID-19 dental setting and we all need to be adaptable as needs change. With the rise in concern about infection control and safety, dental teams are adopting new technologies and techniques that reduce the spread of COVID-19, but also make dental health care safer overall – changes that should remain permanent in dentistry.
Even before these challenging times, dentistry has been shifting its focus from intervention to prevention. The prevention-first approach aims to stop cavities before they progress with as little intervention as possible – basically the opposite of traditional dentistry’s approach to fixing problems once they arise. Today, dental care generally means filling cavities, which requires tools and technology that release airborne contagions. That traditional approach simply isn’t sustainable in this new hyper-aware world and isn’t even quite as straight forward under industry COVID-19 guidance.
Prevention-based dentistry, meanwhile, happens to focus on treatments and tools with minimal aerosol production, one reason the CDC recommends this approach to dental care during COVID-19. Referred to as minimally invasive dentistry or microdentistry, the preventive model is anchored in early disease detection, self-care education, and remineralization treatment.
It refers to sealants, silver diamine fluoride (SDF), atraumatic restorative techniques and Hall crowns, as well as new caries detection methods like near-infrared, laser fluorescence and dental microscopes. It also includes leveraging telehealth to provide as much care as possible without requiring in-person contact.
These alternative treatment options and tools protect providers and patients from airborne contagions like the coronavirus. But this time in modern history, when dental providers must change how they operate safely, also presents the opportunity to permanently apply prevention-based oral health care industrywide. If adopted and supported now, as dental practices continue to open, the oral health system of yesterday will permanently shift to a more sustainable, integrated, and population-centered model.
Yet, this approach can only become a reality with financial support for the industry. We need to shift reimbursement priorities to equitably pay for minimally invasive treatment responses. Paying for the value of preventive care will help providers maintain sustainable businesses while adjusting the way they provide care and reducing the stress of operating a business during this critical transformation.
Preventive oral health care provides important support for lifelong oral health. What was once considered alternative and now should be standard, microdentistry helps patients who fear drills and anesthesia, promotes follow through on care plans (like easing the burden of subsequent treatment visits), and imparts a less traumatic dental office experience that improves the likelihood patients will seek ongoing dental care.
Of course, changing the care delivery model in dental offices shouldn’t be expected to replace good oral hygiene and other healthy self-care habits. Dental teams should start a larger conversation around health, including improved and collaborative communication with patients and other providers to ensure whole-person health.