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CHICAGO, US: Private dental clinics in the US finished the year with stable patient volumes. However, in the latter months of 2021, a greater number of owner dentists raised fees to maintain practice stability, and confidence in recovery from the ongoing pandemic took a hit, according to the latest poll conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute (HPI).
US dentistry showed a strong rate of recovery throughout 2021 but was unable to reach or eclipse pre-pandemic figures. HPI data collected during the week of 13 December showed that patient volumes at private US dental clinics had stabilised at just over 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Compared with before the outbreak, the average volume of total collections in December was 89.9%, down from 92.9% in September.
A quarter of dentists raised fees in late 2021
ADA said that one in four owner dentists indicated that they had raised fees during the four-week period prior to the mid-December poll. “This is the most common financial sustainability measure taken throughout all of 2021,” the association commented in a press release. It added: “Borrowing money was more common in early 2021 than it is now, likely due to the timing of the federal relief programmes.”
Broken down by specialty, fee increases were the most prevalent among orthodontists, at 46.9%, followed by prosthodontists at 37.5%, and paediatric dentists, at 29.4%. Among general practitioners, 23.8% said that they had increased fees during the last month in order to maintain the financial stability of their practice.
Dentists’ confidence likely dented by Omicron variant
HPI asked survey participants how confident they were in the recovery of their dental practice and that of the dental care sector in 2022. Whereas 75% of dentists said in November that they were either very confident or somewhat confident in their clinic’s recovery, this decreased to 71% in December.
Among all December respondents, 13.9% said that they were either somewhat sceptical or very sceptical about the recovery of their dental practice. In the general dental sector, 15.6% expressed scepticism.
Dentists who worked at larger clinics showed a greater level of confidence than solo dentists. Around two-thirds (66.7%) of solo dentists expressed confidence in their clinic’s recovery, and 12.2% were somewhat sceptical about it. Among dentists working at clinics with ten or more dentists, 90% expressed confidence and none expressed scepticism.
According to the ADA, the drop in confidence shown in the December results correlates with a drop seen at the time of the emergence of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2. “A similar drop took place in August with news of the Delta variant,” the association noted.
HPI began conducting the Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Dental Practices survey in March 2020. The latest survey, from which the results reported here were taken, received responses from 1,408 dentists.