Study Finds No Elevated COVID-19 Risk for Dental Practitioners During Clinical Activities

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Many dental clinics were forced to temporarily close or limit their capacity during the COVID-19 epidemic due to an increase in risk associated with aerosol treatments.

Dentistry was deemed a high-risk profession for SARS-CoV-2 transmission because dental procedures required clinicians to work in close proximity with their patients’ mouths and nostrils.

The new paper, published in JAMA Open on December 13, reveals that the clinical activities performed in a clinical setting by practitioners who wear standard personal protective gear and participate in comprehensive SARS CoV-2 surveillance tests did not increase risk of infection.

The study was conducted between August 2020 to February 2022 at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in an academic clinical care environment. HSDM, the only graduate program at Harvard University to provide direct patient care in university-operated facilities, was conducted between August 2020 and February 2022.

In accordance with Harvard University’s mandatory screening program, all HSDM staff, faculty and students on site participated in surveillance testing on a regular basis. The frequency of the testing varied depending on the risk status. This program created a pool of people in clinical and nonclinical positions who were regularly tested for SARS-CoV-2.

Our study showed that the overall rate of asymptomatic positive test results was 0.27 percent. Sung Choi said that being involved in clinical activities didn’t increase the risk of COVID-19. He is an author and HSDM instructor of oral health policy and epidemics.

Choi stated that “although individuals who are involved in clinical activities perform more tests on average per week, the test positivity rate remains lower than nonclinical individuals. This ensures safety for both patients and clinicians in clinical settings.”

The study found that the average test positivity rate for individuals working in clinical roles was 0.25 percent, while it was only 0.36 percent for nonclinical personnel. This means that those who work in nonclinical positions are more likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 than those who work in clinical roles.

The Harvard University Health Services executive director, HMS associate professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and contributor to the study, Giang Nguyen said, “We are pleased that our community was kept safe by the comprehensive SARS/CoV-2 surveillance at Harvard.”

Nguyen stated that “the work done by the dental school in the pandemic showed that they delivered clinical care safely, even with a high density of staff, students and faculty members on campus.”

These findings suggest that institutions can use an adaptive testing frequency based on an individual’s risk status to detect SARS-CoV-2 infections and reduce infection risk within clinical care settings.

This may also serve as a guide for future outbreaks of viruses in educational settings.

William Giannobile, HSDM Dean, said: “The results of this research demonstrate that a dental educational setting is safe for staff, students, and clinicians.” “Furthermore the provision of dental care for patients during the pandemic has been safe, with no documented transmission from doctor to patient of SARS-CoV-2.”

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