As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, dental schools have remained resilient in their mission to provide affordable, high-quality dental care to vulnerable and underserved communities. However, due to COVID-19 pandemic-related regulations on the provision of health care and federal designations regarding essential health care workers, dental school clinics were fully or partially closed for extended periods of time. The impact of these measures resulted in reduced access to care for patients, immediate conversion to online didactic courses, reduction in faculty and staff and increased measures to ensure the safe provision of care and slow COVID-19 transmission.
The ADEA Office of Policy and Education Research conducted a survey to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 67 U.S. dental schools, November 2020–January 2021. Key findings from this survey determined that:
1. Dental schools experienced dramatic declines in the number of patient visits to their clinics. The major decline in patient visits occurred in the adult population aged 20−64 years. Despite this finding, dental schools continued to provide emergency oral health care services during the majority of the pandemic period.
2. Dental schools faced budget cuts in the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, relative to 2019. A myriad of factors contributed to the budget cuts, from reduction in university-wide budgets, state government budget withholds and reallocation of state funds. Budget reductions were consequential in personnel changes at dental schools as well.
3. Dental schools made infrastructure investments to address the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of patients, students, faculty and staff. These investments included personal protective equipment (PPE), plexiglass barriers, chair-side evacuators for aerosol mitigation, additional sanitation, etc. These measures have allowed schools to return to providing comprehensive care.
COVID-19 has complicated the delivery of health care in an already strained system. This research illustrates that U.S. dental schools were impacted and, although investments allowed dentals schools to remain operational under safe conditions for the provision of oral health care, these investments may not be enough to recover from the financial impact of COVID-19 in the years to come. Despite these challenging times, dental schools remained steadfast in their mission to continue educating and training the oral health care workforce and serving vulnerable communities.
Download the brief to learn more about the findings of the ADEA COVID-19 Impact Survey of U.S. Dental Schools and visit the ADEA Policy Publications webpage to learn more about our policy research series. For any questions, please contact Omar A. Escontrías, Dr.P.H., M.P.H. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on May 12, 2021