Patients are seemingly more comfortable returning as they become vaccinated, said Dr. Robert Glickman, associate dean of clinical affairs at NYU College of Dentistry, which has about 1,900 students and treats about 300,000 patients annually. As of Monday, over 44% of New York's population had completed their vaccination, and more than 52% had received at least one dose. In relation, estimates earlier this month by the American Dental Association showed patient volumes at about 94% of prepandemic levels, Ratner said.
Having learned valuable lessons from the pandemic, practitioners are making their businesses more adaptable to a future crisis, both medically and financially.
"During COVID, what kept patients away was the fear for their safety," Glickman said.
Ensuring that dental offices are not places where disease can spread easily is actually simple, as many already are used to stringent levels of infection control, he said.
"Wearing personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields, making sure aerosols don't fly everywhere—we're already used to that," he said.
What was challenging during the height of the pandemic was actually obtaining PPE, Glickman noted.
"We can't control the supply chain, but we have learned to stock up before things get expensive, and we're teaching our students that too," he said.
And practices are learning to be more efficient with their time, Glickman said. Finding out the specific reason for a visit beforehand and figuring out billing before a patient's arrival, via telehealth tools, can help practitioners decrease the time needed to navigate and deliver care, he added.
Dentists are also becoming more savvy business owners. Many practitioners are now better versed in accessing various government relief programs, Ratner said.
"The pandemic has really opened our eyes to the need of government assistance should another crisis of this proportion hit," he said.
Moreover, practitioners are socking away more for a rainy day.
"We used to be told to keep a month or two of expenses in reserves," Ratner said. "That clearly wasn't enough. Now I'm doubling or even tripling that."