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Dental school survey examines essential workers’ views on COVID-195 min read

September 24, 2020

Dental school survey examines essential workers’ views on COVID-195 min read

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Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 24, 2020 – A survey of nearly a thousand people who were tested for COVID-19 antibodies at the School of Dentistry this summer examined how the pandemic is affecting the life experiences of essential workers, including dentists. The research project looked at the important role dentistry can play within the broader health care system by helping to monitor public health during and beyond the current pandemic.

The study, “Impact of COVID-19 on Life Experiences of Essential Workers Attending a Dental Testing Facility,” was posted this week on the website of JDR Clinical and Translational Research in advance of being published in the January 2021 print issue of the journal.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed online by 984 people who were tested for Covid antibodies during May and June at the School of Dentistry. The tests were for essential workers in three categories – those who work in dentistry, those in other healthcare fields and those in non-healthcare fields, including first-responders such as police and fire personnel.

Lead author and dental school faculty member Dr. Margherita Fontana said several important themes emerged from the study. “Our findings support that dental workers are as vulnerable as other essential workers to the psychological impacts of COVID-19, and that testing may help alleviate stress and anxiety associated with these pandemics,” she said. “The study also supports the acceptability and satisfaction of testing done in a dental setting, highlighting a role that dentistry can play within the healthcare system by helping with testing and other surveillance methods during a pandemic.”

Researchers also found that dental providers reported being less afraid to COVID-19 than the other two essential worker groups. “That may be because we have long been attentive to employing procedures and personal protective equipment to safely provide care in the high-risk environments we work in,” said Fontana, who is the Clifford T. Nelson Endowed Professor of Dentistry in the Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics.

Dr. Robert Eber, Clinical Professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine and Director of Clinical Research, was the principal investigator. He led a team of faculty members and staff who prepared the testing protocols, procured supplies, obtained approval to conduct the research survey, and trained those who are administered the tests. “As difficult as the pandemic is, it provides an opportunity for us to perform a valuable service for the community in the antibody tests,” Eber said. “Plus, gathering the additional survey information from nearly a thousand people helps inform best practices moving forward.”

Other co-authors of the study in addition to Fontana and Eber are School of Dentistry Dean Laurie McCauley, the William K. and Mary Anne Najjar Professor in Periodontics and a professor in the Department of Pathology at the U-M Medical School; Dr. Mark Fitzgerald, Associate Dean for Community-Based Collaborative Care and Education and an associate professor in the Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics (CRSE);  Emily Yanca, research project manager in CRSE; and George Eckert, Department of Biostatistics, Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Indiana University.

A participant in the School of Dentistry’s COVID-19 antibody tests waits for blood to be drawn with a finger prick during testing this summer. Participants then completed an online survey.

“We made the decision early in the pandemic to provide a Covid antibody testing site for essential workers in our community and combined it with the research element to measure public perceptions related to the pandemic,” McCauley said. “Putting this together required expertise and contributions from across the entire School of Dentistry in a very short turnaround time. The resulting data are of particular interest to dentists and dentistry, but also for the larger healthcare system, as we move forward not only during this pandemic but future health crises as well.”

Additional survey findings include:

• More than 90 percent of respondents said they always or frequently engaged in preventive measures, such as wearing masks.

• More than 70 percent were sometimes, frequently or always worried about their friends and loved ones contracting COVID-19 and of resulting financial problems, although dental workers were significantly less worried than non-dental healthcare and non-healthcare providers, perhaps because dentistry has long employed significant infection control protocols.

• For all groups, more than half of the respondents stated that the pandemic had a negative (somewhat worse or worse) impact on daily life (59 percent), interactions with others (65 percent), stress levels (66 percent), and enjoyment of life (56 percent).

• More than half of the respondents stated that the pandemic had a positive impact (same, somewhat better, or much better) on caring about one another, self-care and exercise.

• More than two-thirds of respondents said knowing the results of an antibody test would decrease their level of stress and anxiety.

• More than 80 percent said a COVID-19 test received in a dental setting is acceptable, that they were “definitely” satisfied and would “definitely” recommend it to a friend, family or coworker.

The U-M antibody testing was a collaboration with Henry Schein, the world’s largest provider of healthcare solutions and services to office-based dental and medical professionals, and several universities – New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and University of California San Francisco. Only asymptomatic essential workers were included in the test, which required drawing a few drops of blood with a finger prick. Most provided their survey responses as they waited for their blood samples to be tested for the antibodies, which usually took about 15 minutes. Among the 984 survey respondents, 21 reported that they tested positive for antibodies.

The entire research paper can be accessed at the JDR Clinical and Translational Research website here.

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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.