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US dentistry teeters toward recovery

By Jeremy Booth, DTI
July 07, 2020

NEW YORK, U.S.: Dentists in the U.S. are seeing more patients despite the continued and alarming spread of SARS-CoV-2 within the country. In the same week that the daily number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 steadily topped 40,000, analysts at Baird Equity Research found that patient volumes had increased by an encouraging rate. The analysts said that this suggested that the rising number of infections in the U.S. was not currently impacting the recovery of its dental market.

Baird has been surveying U.S. dentists on a weekly basis since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began to affect dental care in the country in mid-March. In its 16th survey, conducted on June 25, analysts found that countrywide patient volumes had improved to -28% of what they were in the same week last year. This represented an increase of 6.2 percentage points on the prior week, and an increase of 50.0 percentage points compared with the results of the weekly survey that Baird conducted on May 7, which found that patient volumes across the country were 78% lower than they had been a year earlier. The lowest patient volumes recorded by Baird so far were in its April 9 survey, which found that dentists across the U.S. had seen a staggering patient decline of 80.5%.

In the June 25 survey, the increase in patient volumes was driven by dental practices in the New England and Middle Atlantic regions, where patient volumes increased to -33% from -54% in the prior week. In the South Atlantic region, patient volumes increased to -17% from -26% in the same period. “We consider these improvements encouraging as they not only reestablish momentum for the broader domestic demand recovery, but also seem to suggest rising COVID case counts in some states aren’t yet impacting dental’s domestic recovery,” the analysts wrote.

But more U.S. dental practices may be closing their doors to elective procedures as a result of the resurgent infection rates. The June 25 survey found that 8% of dental offices across the country were closed for general dental care, up from 4% on June 18. The analysts emphasized that this increase was within the survey’s approximate ten point margin of error, but commented that “we are tempted to believe this jump from 4% to 8% of all domestic offices in our survey being closed this week might reflect the rising COVID case counts.”

The 4% closure figure from the June 18 survey had been a significant improvement on the 12% of dental offices that were closed in the prior week. One month before that, the figure was 55%.

Physical distancing in dental clinics cuts patient numbers

The 28% drop in patient volume currently being seen in U.S. dental clinics may partly be a result of the physical distancing measures that dentists are taking to protect themselves and their patients. The extra time needed between patients means that clinics are making fewer appointment slots available, and not all of these slots are being booked.

An average of 13.1 appointment slots were being offered per day per dentist, Baird found, which constituted around 60% of a normal, pre-pandemic daily appointment schedule for U.S. dentists. The latest survey showed that 70.5% of these available appointment slots were being booked by patients, up from 65.9% the week before.

We believe this, along with a few of the other data points highlighted earlier […], suggests rising COVID case counts across the U.S. aren’t yet having a noticeable impact on patient visits,” the analysts hypothesized.

Ninety-one dentists participated in the latest survey, and 93% of them were general dentists and the remaining 7% were specialists. Of the respondents, 54% worked in a single-doctor practice and 46% in a multidoctor practice.

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