Ohio Dentists Bouncing Back From COVID-19 Pandemic Thanks To Organized Dentistry

ODA Executive Director David Owsiany and then-ODA President Dr. Sharon Parsons provided information about the pandemic to dentists via Facebook live.

Just over a year after dental offices were able to resume care after shutting down for a month and a half, COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio are being lifted as more people receive vaccines.

Over the last year and a half, dental offices have gone through what was one of the most difficult times as a profession as the pandemic ravaged the world, but organized dentistry has had your back and we’ve seen dental offices in Ohio rebound to overcome these unforeseen hardships.

On March 18, 2020, the state of Ohio ordered that all elective procedures, including dental care, be delayed. Our leadership team was in regular contact with the governor’s office, successfully advocating for dentists to be able to provide care for patients with emergency dental situations throughout the pandemic.

During this time, we advocated on your behalf with private insurers, Medicaid and Medicaid HMOs asking them to cover services provided through technology and interim therapeutic restorations in order to help triage dental patients and preserve PPE.

We also continued our advocacy efforts with the state of Ohio, which led to dental offices being able to resume providing care on May 1, 2020. This was sooner than most other states across the country.

As dental offices were preparing to reopen, we provided two free CE courses available to ODA members with information about infection control, PPE and other resources to help you safely reopen your dental practice. In total these webinars were viewed over 14,000 times.

By the week of May 4, 2020, 72.8% of dental offices in Ohio reported being open but seeing a lower patient volume than normal or were back to business as usual, compared to only 30.9% of all dental offices in the U.S., according to research from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute.

As dental offices reopened, we faced a shortage of PPE. The ODA worked to obtain PPE at a reasonable price by distributing nearly 20,000 free face shields to Ohio dentists, securing a donation from DentaQuest, LLC and Midway Dental Supply to provide $100 credits to Ohio dentists to use for purchasing PPE, and working with suppliers through our group purchasing organization, OhioDDS.

Since March of 2020, we’ve asked Ohio based dental insurers and Ohio Medicaid to increase reimbursement levels to reflect the higher costs of PPE. A few dental insurers acted but not all.

We also advocated in favor of legislation providing certain professionals and businesses qualified immunity from civil liability and other professional discipline for actions taken during the current coronavirus pandemic. This bill was signed into law.

Our advocacy efforts also worked to provide financial relief for dental offices, including grants and loans for small businesses and additional funding for unemployment benefits.

Another major role the ODA has played during the pandemic is providing regular updates to ODA members via email, social media and our website with timely information related to the pandemic, and ODA staff have personally responded to thousands of phone calls, texts and emails from members with specific questions related to COVID-19 and provided personalized answers and resources. Topics have ranged from assisting dentists who are working through unemployment compensation issues, SBA loans, dental insurance reimbursement and credentialing, HIPAA compliance, PPE guidelines, infection control, how to handle a COVID-positive case in your office and everything in between.

As some patients were hesitant to go to the dentist during the pandemic, we worked to educate patients and get them back to the dentist. We launched a radio, social media and digital advertising campaign about the importance of seeing a dentist in our COVID world. The radio ad explains how regular dental care ensures that we have good oral health and good overall health. It also discusses some of the safety measures that are in place at dental offices in Ohio. We have updated this campaign throughout the year, and a similar message continues to run on ONN stations across Ohio and on Facebook.

We also advocated for dental professionals to receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to ensure all Ohioans would have access to a healthy dental care delivery workforce so they can maintain strong oral health and overall health. As a result, dental professionals were added to the first round of eligible vaccine recipients.

The Ohio Dental Association also recently released a new COVID-19 online CE course for members. The course, “COVID-19 Update: From Vaccines to Aerosols,” is presented by Dr. Tom Paumier, an ODA past president, and provides timely COVID updates from a clinical perspective.

Thanks to these efforts, we’ve seen dental offices return to thriving despite the hardships the COVID-19 pandemic brought.

According to data from the ADA Health Policy Institute, 55.8% of dentists in Ohio report being back to business as usual the week of April 12 (the most recent data available), and 72.9% of Ohio dentists also report that patient volume was 86% or more of what was typical before the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more details on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affecting dental offices in Ohio, visit www.oda.org.