Wednesday, January 6, 2021

ADA Working to Help Decrease Shortages of Critical PPE


The  pandemic has created challenges for everyone.  Whether it be layoffs from jobs, decrease in busyness, constant mask wearing, hand washing, changes are everywhere.

In healthcare, one of the most critical problems that we are facing is viable supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment).  Beginning in early 2020, shortages began to appear.  This was especially true of critical N-95 and KN-95 masks.  These specially manufactured masks filter 95% of particles down to .3 microns.  With the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 having a particle size larger than .3 microns, the filtration of these masks was needed to protect healthcare workers from aerosolized particles breathed out by infected individuals.  Demand for these masks spiked as cases of Covid-19 increased dramatically.  Many facilities were issuing one mask per employee that they had to use for weeks.

Along with masks, disposable gowns also began to be in short supply.  These gowns, which become covered with potentially infectious materials are worn when treating patients and then disposed of as medical waste after use.

Shortages of these 2 products was bad enough, but then in the summer of 2020 my contacts in the industry began to whisper about something equally as critical... gloves.  Protecting exposed skin is an absolute necessary during patient contact and *especially* in dentistry, where we have been wearing gloves during procedures since the 80s.  Glove supplies suddenly began to decrease.  The reason, according to sources, was that during the global shutdown and shelter at home during the late winter and spring of 2020, glove factories were forced to close.  During that time of shutdown, global inventories of gloves were rapidly expended as suppliers used their inventory to keep hospitals and dental offices functioning.  However, with the pandemic, glove usage spiraled upward and factories were unable to keep pace.  Working at a deficit, the companies could barely keep up with demand, let alone create a reserve supply.

Now the strained supply chain is also yielding to the laws of economics.  Supply and demand being what they are, healthcare is seeing prices increase to levels unseen in the past.  To help combat this, the ADA has reached out the Department of Health and Human Services as well as FEMA to see what can be done to ease the problem.

Here is what the ADA has had to say about this:

To ensure dental practices have enough personal protective equipment, the ADA is urging two federal agencies to improve access to PPE so that dentists and dental team members can continue to treat patients safely during the pandemic.

In Dec. 16, 2020, letters to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, D.M.D., said the Association has “grave concerns regarding the cost, availability, and distribution of personal protective equipment.”

“Dentistry is an essential health care service and dentists and their teams are essential health care workers who need access to PPE in order to stay safe from the coronavirus,” they wrote.

In the letter, Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin highlighted the work of the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, which has been collecting and tracking PPE data on N95/KN95 and surgical masks, face shields, gowns, disinfecting supplies, and gloves since the onset of COVID-19. HPI has found that prices are up “significantly” and said nearly one-third of dentists have reported that prices “have at least tripled.” Surgical masks and gloves have also seen the largest price increases, and four and five-fold price increases are not uncommon, HPI said.

The ADA shared two dental supply companies’ PPE experiences during the pandemic. Benco, a privately owned distributor, told ADA News that PPE prices have been increasing for gloves at unprecedented levels. Benco also said that the company “simply cannot procure enough gloves to meet demand.” Patterson, another major dental supply distributor, indicated that global demand for PPE is at “a level never experienced before.”

For Patterson, “the limited number of manufacturers, raw material requirements, global logistic challenges, and import/export issues are the major factors impacting prices in the marketplace,” wrote Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin.

The ADA said that with larger distributors unable to fill the demand, dentists are increasingly relying on a larger number of distributors for PPE.

Prior to the pandemic, 9% of dental practices said they utilized Amazon for PPE but now some 32% of practices say they have been utilizing the online retailer’s services to stock their practices. Many dentists have also reported using multiple distributors after previously relying on one.

Dentists are finding it moderately to very difficult to purchase gloves in their preferred sizes and material. Third-party brokers have become involved in the distribution process. “This is causing price increases for mainstream distributors and ultimately to the end customer,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin wrote.

“As FEMA works with HHS and other partners to ensure limited supplies of critical PPE are available to essential health care workers, the ADA wants to ensure that dental practices are supplied with these important health care products for the safety of our patients and our dental teams,” the letter concluded.

For more information about the ADA’s advocacy efforts during COVID-19, visit

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