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Dr Ali Nankali is a clinical senior lecturer at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London and the president of UKDentalCourses. (Image: Ali Nankali)

Effect of COVID-19 on dental professionals in the UK

By Dr Ali Nankali
January 14, 2021

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our professional life, yet the aftermath of the pandemic and its consequences for our future are still unclear. Since dental practitioners and their teams are directly exposed to the virus, there have been numerous challenges to providing dental care during the pandemic. Up to now, we have only been able to base our practice management decisions on recently gathered statistics and on the early stages of research. This has led to various mistakes being committed in clinical practice and to unexpected discoveries as well as to increasing uncertainty about the future of dentistry.

When it first appeared, COVID-19 took everyone by surprise and generated various assumptions. Professionals attempted to analyse this complicated situation without having any comparable experience or knowledge. Living with COVID-19 for more than 11 months has demonstrated how vulnerable our professional life can be, despite the existing science. We have learned that the effect of COVID-19 is widespread; it has impacted all areas in dentistry, including dental education, and has had an enormous effect on both undergraduate dentists and qualified clinicians.

Science has since evolved, and new findings, facts and figures are published daily. All dental professionals, regardless of their professional title or responsibilities, are constantly updated on the current situation as it relates to dentistry, especially those working in dental schools.

“Living with COVID-19 for more than 11 months has demonstrated how vulnerable our professional life can be, despite the existing science”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, dental schools have faced new challenges. It has especially affected the work of undergraduate students, whose contact with real patients has been greatly reduced. Treating a patient is a complex procedure that requires some real-life experience. This helps the student understand the reality of treatment and all its related aspects. As a result of the pandemic, undergraduate students have been deprived of this opportunity.

Dental institutes are doing their best to move lessons online. However, students still need to supplement their virtual lessons with hands-on sessions. Some institutes have increased their manikin head practice sessions in clinical skills laboratories in order to compensate for the lack of hands-on lessons. Nevertheless, although beneficial, these sessions cannot be compared with seeing a real patient.

Treating real dental patients requires creating an appropriate, safe environment. This has become harder and rather expensive to achieve nowadays owing to the new guidelines for infection control. Besides, the behaviour of our patients has also changed, and they are now unwilling to attend clinics, especially when it involves going to more crowded places, such as institutes and hospitals. And even if they do want to attend clinics, this is now seldom possible owing to the current restrictions on dental visits.

Dr Ali Nanklali working on a manikin. (Image: Ali Nankali)

Having said this, we should accept the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and think about how we can plan and prepare for 2021. The limitation on education has not only affected our dental undergraduate students; it has also had a negative impact on our qualified clinicians.

Continuing professional development opportunities

Many organisations that offer continuing professional development (CPD) courses have also faced new challenges. The aim of holding these courses is to help the healthcare system. Clinicians often look for hands-on courses in order to improve their skills. Unfortunately, these are now limited owing to their prohibitive costs; there is no logic in creating unrealistically expensive courses, considering that many dentists have already lost part of their income as a result of COVID-19.

UKDentalCourses is an active educational organisation in the UK. Like many other organisations, it is attempting to find better ways to accommodate practitioners who require help at the moment. The team is constantly analysing the available data in order to work out what kind of professional development opportunities are sought by dental professionals.

Feedback on online CPD courses obtained from attendees reveals that most professionals prefer interactive live courses, which allow them to find answers and solutions to their questions quickly. According to attendees, this type of course is more effective compared with pre-recorded online presentations. Since patient volume has decreased dramatically, many practitioners now have more time to engage in webinars, online courses and conferences.

Closing remark

The reduced number of patients has had an unusual effect on our society. As patients cannot see their dentists as often as before, they now want to know more about how they can improve their oral cavity hygiene and overall health in order to avoid associated complications. However, the reduction in the number of patient visits owing to COVID-19 has led to an increase in cases requiring complicated treatment.

These complicated treatment cases are on the rise; dental students worry about their competencies; people are anxious about their oral cavity health, and lack of data is a cause for constant concern for our dental professionals. I am convinced that even those dental professionals who work in higher positions are finding it extremely difficult to come up with the best solutions not only for our industry, but also for society.

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