"Obviously, when we shut down for six weeks back in March, a year ago, things were pretty slow. And it took a while to get back up," said Dr. Matt Roberts, chair of the Texas Dental Association’s Council on Legislative, Regulatory and Governmental Affairs.
One survey, by denture publication Nextsmile Dental, shows as many as 70 percent of Texans have delayed routine checkups because of coronavirus concerns.
The Texas Dental Association said their records show the drop in patients is closer to 20 percent. "We need to get the vaccine going. We need patients to feel more comfortable than with the vaccine, and already the PPE that we use in our dental practices in the safe practice of dentistry, that it is okay to come back," Roberts said.
Dentists in Texas agree that putting off care for even a few months can increase the number of people in area hospitals.
"The number one referral source, or place that mainly, if you will, that patients go if they're not going to dental offices, is to emergency rooms. And that's exactly where we don't want to go because, if they have a problem, go to the emergency rooms, those areas, the hospital is already overloaded treating COVID patients and you just have to make sure that we don't increase that problem," said Roberts.
Dentists said they are trained in infection control and have been for more than 30 years.
Their message to patients is simple, it's safer to come in than to wait. "I don't know of any COVID cases that have come directly from a dental office," Roberts said.
In fact, dentists say they are relying on more protective equipment than ever before, meaning there may be differences not only in the waiting room but also in your wallet.
"Now part of the problem is costs are going up and so it's becoming more expensive. And so the downside to this is, you'll see some minor fee increases, probably, to help cover for the increased expense of handling what we need to do in the office to be safe," said Roberts.
According to the study, as the pandemic takes a toll on mental health, people may be more likely to need emergency dental care.