By Ashish Srivastava, Mohammad Suiab
Even the Indian dentists are feeling the pain — of COVID-19 setback to their practice. While the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 has burdened the healthcare sector in totality, dentistry remains one of the streams left struggling to stay afloat after remaining shut for months.
Dental clinics and hospitals across India have seen a huge drop in patients’ footfall post the pandemic, forcing many dentists to shut their private practice. Those who still managed to open their clinics and hospitals have hiked their charges to cover up the loss of number of patients and to cover their regular expenditure apart from the additional cost of corona safety measures.
Dentistry took a massive hit amid the Covid-19 pandemic due to its very nature of work. Dentistry entails close proximity of dentists with their patients, involving face-to-face communication and frequent exposure to their saliva, blood etc. Thus, dentists stand at higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection or vice versa. This aspect delivered a huge blow to the dental services amid the pandemic.
As per an estimate, dentists have hiked their charges of consultation or different surgical procedures by at least 50 per cent. However, they claim, even the hiked charges barely cover their expenditures.
A dentist practicing in Ghaziabad said that he is now charging Rs 3,000 for certain processes compared with Rs 2,000 earlier. “It also includes the cost of PPEs, face shield, N-95 masks etc we use,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
The low footfall of patients is a cause of worry for dentist in the given scenario. Dentists which operate through their own clinics or hospitals are reporting a decline of up to 80 per cent in the number of patients.
Dr Navneet Kapoor, a dentist at New Delhi Oral and Dental Clinic, said that he is getting only 4-5 emergency cases in a day, like cases of severe teeth pain or gum swellings.
Fear of corona among public and voluntary postponement of elective procedures
Dr Tarun Panwar of Panwar Dental Clinic in New Delhi said that dental patients are afraid of coming to the clinics. “They are cancelling appointments and seeking advice on telephone. They are avoiding physical visits due to the fear of virus infection,” he said.
Besides, doctors are themselves advising patients to delay dental cleaning/floss, oral health check-ups, and even cosmetic surgeries.
“Dentists are directly in contact with the breath and saliva of patients. So, we are now avoiding elective and cosmetic procedures and confining ourselves to only emergency interventions,” said Dr Varun Malhotra of Malhotra’s Super Specialty Dental Centre.
Dr Varun also said that the number of patients had to be reduced to maintain hygiene and sanitation standards as per the mandatory COVID-19 protocol.
The safety measures involve PPE kits, face shields, face mask, and disinfection of surgical equipment and examination rooms five times a day. Many dentists see patients on alternate days and set aside a full day for disinfection.
Dr Panwar said that dentists are reeling under acute financial losses. “Many of us earned around a lakh per month earlier. But now, our income has subsided to Rs 25,000 only. In this income, even paying the rent of the clinic premises seems an uphill task,” he added.
Delay in release of guidelines and lackadaisical approach by dental associations
Dr Rahul Kumar Singh, a dentist at the Government Institute of Medical Sciences in Noida, blamed the delay in the preparation and release of guideline for dentistry professionals behind the massive disruption in their services.
“The guidelines for this stream came so late that it totally disrupted the livelihood of small clinical set-ups. While the guidelines for the practitioners of medicine were formed right after the pandemic, it took more than two months for the government to allow dental practices,” he said.
The government allowed the dentist to start operation in May, two months after imposing the lockdown.
Dr Singh also said that the dentist fraternity had expected support from the dental associations and councils as it could have saved many small clinics from winding up operations.
“No one in the world had received training to work under the pandemic. Yet, the hospitals were allowed to open after proper guidance. We had expected the dental associations and councils to step in to provide some guidance, training, and ask the government to allow practice without delay. After all, despite the surge in daily infections, dentists are now being allowed to practice. It could have been done earlier as well,” he said.