Peaks in COVID-19 transmission coincided with anxiety and depression in dental health care workers according to a new study.

The first known U.S. study to evaluate the mental health of frontline dentists and dental hygienists during the pandemic found that dental health care workers reported anxiety and depression symptoms during peaks of transmission among the public.

Published jointly in the August issues of The Journal of the American Dental Association and the Journal of Dental Hygiene, the study found that between June 2020 and June 2021, 17.7% of dental health care workers reported anxiety symptoms.

Depression symptoms were reported in 10.7% of dental workers, and 8.3% reported symptoms of both.

The year-long study conducted from June 2020 to June 2021, included 8,902 dental health care workers participating monthly in an anonymous longitudinal, web-based survey.

Dental hygienists reported higher rates of depression symptoms than dentists at each surveyed time point, with depression symptom rates peaking in December 2020. Dental hygienists’ depression rates declined in 2021 while dentists’ rates of depression symptoms remained steady.

At the end of the study period, both groups had relatively similar rates — 11.8% for dentists and 12.4% for hygienists.

“Interestingly, dental health care workers reported lower rates of anxiety and depression symptoms than the general public, despite being on the front lines and providing oral health care during the pandemic,” said author Stacey Dershewitz, JD, PsyD, adjunct professor of Clinical Psychology and director of the Center Clinic at the George Washington University Professional Psychology Program.

Some participants’ anxiety symptoms decreased after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the study. The study was the first to examine the association between the COVID-19 vaccine and mental health and it found that unvaccinated dental health care workers who planned to be vaccinated suffered significantly more anxiety symptoms (20.6%) compared to fully-vaccinated dental health care workers (14.1%).

“As healthcare professionals, we must be committed to our own health and wellness to optimally care for others,” said study author Maria L. Geisinger, DDS, MS, professor and director of the Advanced Education Program in Periodontology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. “Creating professional environments that allow for open communication about mental health among members of the dental team can reduce the stigma around mental health diagnoses and treatment for dental health care workers.”

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