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Global shortage of surgical masks hits dental practices worldwide

In light of the worldwide shortage of surgical masks, dentists are becoming afraid of failing to adhere to infection control standards and being forced to shut their dental practices. (Image: Anna Jurkovska/Shutterstock)
By Iveta Ramonaite, DTI
March 18, 2020

LEIPZIG, Germany: According to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), it could be a year before a successful vaccine to treat the coronavirus becomes widely available to the public. In the meantime, dental professionals are advised to control the spread of the virus by using face masks. However, as the outbreak reaches the tipping point, personal protective equipment supplies, especially of surgical masks, are at critically low levels. In a call to action, dental and health organisations have recently urged the federal government to boost mask supplies in order to prevent possible dental practice closures and protect healthcare workers from being infected and infecting others.

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rise, shoppers around the world are emptying supermarket shelves and panic-buying face masks to protect themselves from the virus. According to the British Dental Association (BDA), the shortage has already affected dentists in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of the US. In response, health and government officials and organisations worldwide, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), have urged people who do not work in the healthcare sector or have not experienced signs of infection to stop precautionary buying of face masks.

As dental organisations run low on mask supplies, the fears of having to close dental practices are growing. For example, the ADA previously predicted that mask supplies in dental practices across Australia may run out within four weeks. “Without surgical masks, dentists cannot treat patients safely and we run the risk of people going without treatment,” said ADA Deputy CEO Eithne Irving. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure dentists can see patients, but without a guaranteed supply of masks, dentists cannot adhere to our strict Australian infection control standards. It means dental practices will be forced to close,” Irving continued.

Increasing manufacturing of face masks

According to WHO, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response every month, and the price of surgical masks has increased sixfold, while N95 respirators have tripled and gowns doubled in price. Some of the largest face mask manufacturers are located in China. However, the country has recently cut the production of face masks for foreign exportation to ensure an adequate supply for those infected by COVID-19 within China.

As supplies are being depleted, WHO has called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40%. “Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release. “Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” he concluded.

Improving the current situation

Dental organisations around the globe are doing their best to address the current situation, and just last week, the ADA reported that the federal government was able to successfully source a much-needed supply of masks. This includes 54 million masks for healthcare professionals working in both the dental and the medical professions. Additionally, the BDA stated that the UK government has taken swift action and unlocked its face mask stocks to prevent disruption and meet the growing demand. Finally, WHO said that it is currently working with governments, industry and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network to locate supplies for critically affected and at-risk countries.

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