Implications of COVID-19 on Safety Net Oral Health Services

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the oral health care system, particularly the workforce and care delivery at community health centers and other dental safety net providers. An ongoing poll of US dentists launched by the Health Policy Institute at the ADA shows that a majority of dental practices re-opened by July 2020, after closure in March, with 90% at pre-pandemic staffing levels and 70% at pre-pandemic patient volume levels. However, the trends on practice opening status, PPE supplies, patient volume, staffing, and other pandemic related impacts varied substantially between private practices and safety net providers.

Researchers at the OHWRC will examine COVID-19 pandemic impacts on Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and other safety-net dental providers. Researchers will evaluate: 1) changes in the ability of safety net providers to offer dental services; 2) the recruitment and retention of staff (ie, dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental therapists); 3) the number of dental facilities and sites operated by FQHCs; and 4) changes in the cost of providing care due to the precautions necessitated by the pandemic. The study will describe unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability of safety net providers to deliver care to underserved communities as well as the potential future implications related to oral health workforce shortages and provision of care for patients. This study will also examine pandemic impacts on safety net providers that offer oral health services through mobile and portable programs.