Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Profession, the Pandemic, and a Guiding Principle


I've been a proud member of the American Dental Association ever since I graduated from dental school... and that's been a few years now.  I've been part of the organization because I feel it is important to support those that support me.  However, I've also always supported the ADA because they always strive to do the right thing.  That's important to me.

Recently ADA president Dr. Chad Gehani penned a Guest Editorial for the Journal of the American Dental Association where he does an outstanding job of articulating how hard dentistry has worked to maintain its high standards throughout the global pandemic.  Give it a read.  I hope you will be as moved by it as I was.

We are all in this together.

This phrase is popular for times of collective challenge and especially for this moment, as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has shifted all that we once knew as normaland sent us all into a space of uncertainty. The disease, caused by a novel coronavirus, is at the center of ongoing discovery. A warp speedeffort to develop a vaccine is underway, and there are emergency authorizations for treatments that have shown glimmers of promise against this potentially fatal illness.

In the meantime, we are adapting to new ways of living, working, and being. We measure our daily activities by a new yardstick of risk. We have a greater awareness of physical space, our in- teractions with others, what we touch, where we go, how we move, and whether we remembered to bring our face masks.

As dentists, we are also going the extra mile by adding new layers to our infection control protocols to help protect all who enter our officesdpatients, staff, visitors, ourselvesdfrom an invisible health threat. Our ethical obligations to do good and do no harm are more top of mind than ever before.

It has been said that pandemics can magnify the true state of a society. That COVID-19 took hold in the United States in 2020 provides almost too easy a metaphor; in terms of eyesight, 20/20 is a measurement of clarity and acuity. Some may argue that the 2020 pandemic has brought to focus disparities that were once peripheralddisparities in societal safety nets, health equity, and socio- political priorities. These topics are fodder for debate, and the ways forward can be varied and complex.

But what is clear to medas a leader and practicing dentistdis that 2020 has shown us all what our profession is made of.

Our nations fight against COVID-19 has required participation from every corner of the health care community. We all, in some way, have had to make a shift.

Dentistrydan essential service and a key component of the overall health care systemdhas been doing its part. In adherence to American Dental Associations (ADA) recommendations, dentists focused on urgent and emergency care early on, ensuring that no one in critical need of dental treatment went without it. The goals were clear: to support our medical colleagues by conserving much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), to keep emergency dental patients away from overextended emergency rooms, and to help mitigate disease spread through social distancing.

Organized dentistry has rallied at the local, state, and national levels in the name of guidance and advocacy. ADA volunteers and staff members have mobilized in an all-hands response, although in a way that no one could have predicted. Virtual meetings, conference calls, and working from home . a novel disease has demanded a novel way of getting things done.

But I am proud that the resultant resources (such as the ADAs COVID-19 online content, Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit, and Hazard Assessment checklist, figure), advocacy successes (including legislative provisions that provided economic relief for dental practices), and special initiatives (like those that provide PPE to dentists) have supported our colleagues through this unprecedented crisis.

There is also all the good that dentists have done in their own communities. I have received letters from ADA members who, in March and April, donated some of their own PPE to medical personnel on the front lines. To cheer up families shut in during a statewide stay-at-home order, 1 pediatric dentist in Texas produced fun videos for social media and kept

children smiling during an otherwise scary and unpredictable time.
I would be remiss to ignore the personal and professional impact that COVID-19 has made on all

of us. Some of us have been personally affected by the disease. In addition to feeling a strain on our mental health and well-being, we have worried about our patients, our teams, and our practices. Thankfully, dentistry has been treading carefully along a path to recovery. By this summer, most dental offices had reopened, and patients returned to receiving the wide array of care they needed.

Dentists are a resilient group. Our track record how we emerged stronger after other public health crises has long been an indicator of this. And again, in an unusual year, we have not only adapted we have stepped up.

The crisis, however, has not yet subsided. Plenty of unknowns remain. I am not sure we are even in the middle of this story yet, let alone nearing the end. If there is anything we might know for sure in a time of COVID-19, it is that our situation can change quickly. Some of us may be weary, and some of us may be worried about what the rest of the year will bring. But of all the things we have learned thus far, I am holding on to this thought: seeing this fight through will require us to stay connected, steadfast, and focused.

The responsibility falls on all of us to keep striving for the bright future that awaits. Let us hold fast to our commitment to the health and safety of those we serve. And let us continue to look out for one another as friends, colleagues, and compassionate citizens.

Indeed, if we are to put this pandemic behind us, we will need to be in it together. Its not just a phrase; its a mission and a guiding principle. n

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