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US dental offices are closing their doors as pressure mounts

By Jeremy Booth, DTI
March 27, 2020

ORANGE, Calif./CHARLOTTE, N.C., U.S.: Western Dental & Orthodontics has announced that it will temporarily close the majority of its 250 affiliated offices throughout California and keep only selected clinics open in key locations in order to meet demand for urgent dental care. As COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise in the U.S., the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners has been forced to respond to requests for a blanket closure of dental clinics in the state.

Western Dental said that just 14 of its clinics will remain open for emergency treatment—three clinics in both Northern and Central California and eight clinics in the state’s populous southern counties. Western Dental operates 250 affiliated offices throughout California and would normally receive close to 250,000 patient visits each month.

The group’s chief dental officer, Dr. John Luther, said in a statement that the closures were in line with the recommendations given by the federal government, state and local public health agencies, and dental boards and associations for restricting the provision of nonemergency dental procedures.

[We] have made the very difficult decision to temporarily close the majority of our dental offices throughout the state effective tomorrow,” the March 20 statement read. “To be certain that emergency dental care remains accessible to our patients and the communities we serve during this unprecedented time, we have made the decision to keep open certain offices in central locations for urgent and emergency services only. Recognizing that this is a fluid situation, we currently plan to resume full-service dentistry and orthodontics at all locations beginning Monday, April 13, subject to health advisories in place at that time,” Luther explained.

Opening hours are restricted at the 14 offices that remain open, and patients are required to call and explain their treatment requirements before visiting the offices.

Looming prospect of blanket closures for dental practices

The American Dental Association (ADA) has recommended that all dental clinics in the U.S. postpone elective procedures for a period of three weeks beginning on March 16. In effect, the ADA has recommended the closure of dental offices to all but emergency cases, but one state dental board has reported calls for even tougher restrictions.

According to North Carolina Health News, the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners on March 18 responded to a high volume of calls from its members for a total shutdown. In response to the requests from its members, the board posted the following statement: “The NC State Board of Dental Examiners has received numerous requests for the board to mandate the closure of all NC dental offices in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the dental board lacks the authority to mandate the closure of dental offices. Notwithstanding certain federal authority, the authority to close North Carolina businesses resides with the governor, certain state agencies, and county and local governments under the emergency powers of the state.”

In the absence of further restrictions from these agencies, the board said that “[dentists] who strictly adhere to all sterilization and disinfection guidelines, should consider the continuation of emergency care to prevent dental patients from adding stress to hospitals, hospital emergency rooms, and urgent care facilities.”

By March 26, North Carolina had 636 confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths had been reported, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services; the U.S. had 85,991 confirmed cases and 1,296 deaths had been reported, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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