New ADA Health Policy Institute poll finds most dental professionals will focus on cost cutting, adjusting staff, and borrowing money to address COVID-19 shortfalls through June.

The second round of results from the ADA Health Policy Institute poll on the impact of COVID-19 on dental professional practices showed significant financial impact, with collections for the vast majority of practitioners less than 5% of what is typical in their practice.

The poll, from responses gathered during the week of April 6, was taken by 6,441 dental professionals in private practice, a response rate of over 50%.

“This invaluable data gives an accurate picture of what industry professionals are facing and will help shape the ADA’s response,” says Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist and HPI vice president.

In the second round of polling, 79% of dental professionals reported that their practices were closed except for emergency patients, and another 18% are closed completely, indicating that the vast majority of dentists are complying with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ADA guidelines. Outlier states were Vermont and Arkansas, with 38% and 31% of practices fully closed, respectively.

Pennsylvania saw a dramatic change from two weeks ago. For the week of March 23, 74% of practitioners in Pennsylvania reported that their practices were fully closed, but that percentage dropped to 29% this week after the state relaxed an earlier complete ban on dental procedures.

Compared to the first round of polling, the biggest changes relate to staffing. Two weeks ago, 27% of doctors were paying their staff fully compared to 11% this week. Conversely, the percentage not paying any of their staff rose from 28% to 44%.

This week’s poll introduced a question about what actions practitioners would consider to ensure the sustainability of their practices if the current practice restrictions continue. Through the end of April and June, the majority of dental professionals reported that they would focus on cost cutting, including adjusting staffing and borrowing money to address shortfalls. But if the situation were to continue through the end of August, 46% said they would consider closing, selling or filing for bankruptcy.

“The data results tell a clear story. The early, proactive response by the dental profession to safeguard the safety of patients and help flatten the curve and preserve PPE has, as expected, impacted dental practices in a major way,” says Vujicic. “Short-term financial relief from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, dental insurers and other groups as well as the enhanced use of teledentistry could help ease financial shortfalls in the short term. What is clear at this stage, however, is that the coming two to three months represent a critical juncture for the economic sustainability of many dental practices.”

HPI says it will continue to track data every 2 weeks in every state to provide a glimpse into how the pandemic is unfolding. Practitioners who wish to participate can access the poll on Complete results comparing the week of March 23 and April 6 are posted on the HPI site.