A Study Finds Infection Rates Among Dentists to be Much Lower Than Other Healthcare Professionals

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At a time of a global fight against Covid-19, many people do not have the highest confidence in the safety of dental clinics. There is a widespread perception that dentistry is high risk considering how closely dentists operate to their patient’s mouth, and the link airborne nature of transmission of Covid-19. Yet, recent data suggests what many people have known for a long time: dentists have lower infection rates than other healthcare professionals. 

According to a study conducted between June and November of last year, dentists had a cumulative infection prevalence of 2.6%,by the end of the study. This was lower than for nurses, physicians and other healthcare professionals. 

The study looked at the accumulative incidence and prevalence of Covid-19 among dentists. 2,196 dentists participated in the study through an online survey. The dentists came from both private and public practice. They were asked about any Covid-019 tests they had undergone, any symptoms they had had, and any mitigation measures they had undertaken in their primary dental practice. 

The data shows that the incidence rate of Covid-19 hovered between 0.2% and 1.1% throughout the study. Over the period of the study, the average incidence rate was 0.5%. 

The study shows that despite the fears that many people have about visiting the dentist and the safety of dental practices, dentists have maintained low incidence rates. This is true even in those areas where infection rates spiked. 

In a survey conducted in May last year, which looked at prevalence rates of Covid-19 among frontline health care workers, the prevalence rate was found to be 29%. That is much higher than for dentists. 

The data is very robust, and the responses were weighted according to location and age in order to gain an approximation of the population of dentists in the U.S. 1,291 of the dentists were involved in the final survey while 785 dentists were involved in all six surveys. The study into prevalence and incidence rates continues on an earlier study of infection rates and mitigation measures among dental practices. 

The study found that 57 dentists had contracted Covid-19 and that contract tracing found the likely source of infection in 23 of those cases. Yet, in only two of those instances was the dental practice found to be the probable source of the infection. 

The study obviously is good news to many patients who had kept away from dental practices believing them to be high risk. These patients had postponed dental implants and other important dental procedures in the belief that dentists had high infection rates. This study shows that those fears are, happily, unfounded. 

A large part of the fears surrounding dental clinics had to do with the aerosols generated during dental practices. Yet, even though the percentage of aerosol generating procedures rose from 92.8% in June to 98.4% in November, the incidence rate remained far below that of other health care professionals. 

This reflects the mitigation measures taken by dentists as well as the historically high safety measures taken by dentists even before the pandemic struck.