August 10, 2020
By Mary Beth Versaci
The American Dental Association Board of Trustees has adopted an ad interim policy stating dentistry is essential health care to help guide advocacy for the dental profession during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board established the ad interim policy via a video call July 27, and the House of Delegates will consider it as a resolution during its virtual meeting in October.
“This policy was created to recognize that dentistry is an essential service. Whether it’s the current pandemic, a future epidemic or a natural disaster in a particular area, this policy recognizes the need for people to be able to continue to access the full range of dental services,” ADA President Chad P. Gehani said. “Doing so will help people maintain their oral health and contribute to their overall health. Oral health is integral to overall health — staying well often depends on having access to health care, which includes dental treatment.”
From March 16-April 30, the ADA called for dentists to postpone all but urgent and emergency procedures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, keep patients out of overburdened hospital emergency departments and conserve personal protective equipment. By the end of May, most state governments had lifted restrictions on dental offices, but as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many states, the dental community is concerned governors may again limit dental services to urgent and emergency care, which could negatively impact dentists and the oral health of the public, Dr. Gehani said.
The policy states oral health is an integral component of systemic health and dentistry is an essential health care service because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing and treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.
It advises that the ADA use the term “essential dental care” — defined as any care that prevents and eliminates infection and preserves the structure and function of teeth and orofacial hard and soft tissues — in place of “emergency dental care” and “elective dental care” when communicating with legislators, regulators, policymakers and the media about care that should continue to be delivered during pandemics and other disasters.
“Using the term ‘elective dental procedures’ implies oral health care is optional and diminishes the evidence validating that oral health is an integral component of overall health,” Dr. Gehani said.
The policy also states the ADA will urge state agencies and officials to recognize the oral health workforce when designating its essential workforce during public health emergencies. Government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency have already acknowledged dentistry as an essential service.