As the COVID-19 health crisis developed, many dental education institutes and dentists found themselves having to react without initial guidance. In particular, dental and allied health schools and community health centers have large numbers of students, residents, staff, faculty, and patients who visit their buildings daily.
Many hospitals stopped doing elective treatment in order to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and to prepare physically for the increase in patients needing care. Dentistry was asked to play a role in helping to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to preserve PPE supplies. As the situation unfolded, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and some local departments of health mandated that dentists limit their practice to emergency care and stop performing elective care.
At the same time, parent universities decided to move students off their campuses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in dormitories. Plans were made at the university level to deliver instantaneous online education.
For all of these reasons, most dental schools switched to online education for certain components of their curriculum. They curtailed their preclinical programs and shut their clinics, except for tending to emergencies.
Access to oral health care across the nation has been severely limited by the COVID-19 crisis. Our dental educational programs have been disrupted.
I am proud to see that the dental profession is helping by collecting surplus PPE and giving it to hospitals, by curtailing dental practice at a cost to both patients and the practice of dentistry, and by offering clinical spaces to hospitals for overflow and for staging and storage needs. Our profession will also need help in the recovery to provide oral health care to patients who are untreated during this public health crisis.
Dr. Nadeem Karimbux
Dean of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
Professor of periodontology