Government-ordered business closures in the U.K., France, Germany, and other European nations intended to address the spread of Covid-19 coincide with rising case numbers in the U.S. On November 15, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) ordered a three week shutdown of in-person public high school classes, restaurants, bowling alleys, and other businesses. This has many concerned that a second wave of state-mandated business closures could be in the not-too-distant future for other parts of the U.S. The good news is that much has been learned since the spring that will permit state officials to make better-informed decisions than those rendered in March and April.
The experience with the first wave of the pandemic, coupled with new research, provides helpful findings and data that governors, legislators, and other policymakers can use to decide which businesses can remain open even in the event of a future shutdown, and how they can do so in the safest manner possible. Some states have taken it a step further, passing legislation identifying businesses that not only are so essential that they should remain open even in the event of a future shutdown, but also granting them additional authority to help mitigate the spread of Covid-19. A great example of this can be found in Oregon, where a law was enacted that authorizes dentists for administer vaccinations.
Not much passes in Oregon’s Democratic-run state legislature that even red, Republican-controlled states would be inclined to take up. But an exception to that general rule is Oregon’s first-in-nation law authorizing dentists to administer vaccines. Lawmakers in other states, both Democratic and Republican-led, are now looking to Oregon’s reform as a model to adopt in the coming months.
House Bill 2220, legislation permitting dentists to administer vaccinations of any kind, was signed into law by Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) on May 6, 2019. The fact that this reform was enacted prior to the pandemic underscores that many view it as smart policy even in normal times, and one that is particularly helpful during a national health emergency like the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We sponsored House Bill 2220 to increase access to care, providing additional opportunities for patients to receive life-saving vaccines from highly trained practitioners they already know and trust,” said Oregon Dental Association President James McMahan.
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“If you have a routine dental cleaning in the fall, just as the flu season typically starts, you can also get vaccinated at the same time,” said Dr. Philip Marucha, who is dean of the OHSU School of Dentistry and helped write HB 2220. “This simple convenience can help bridge gaps in care and prevent the spread of infectious disease. We’re offering Oregonians another option that can make it easier to stay healthy.”
One reason dentists are so well equipped to administer vaccines, explains Dr. Marucha, is that they already routinely provide injections to a particularly sensitive part of the body. Dr. Marucha also points to dentists’ extensive training in microbiology, autoimmune response, and general anatomy.
Lawmakers in other states have taken similar steps as Oregon, but to a more limited degree. Illinois and Minnesota, have had bipartisan passed laws on the books for more than half a decade that permit dentists to administer influenza vaccines. On Friday, November 13, the Arkansas Dental Board approved dentists to provide Covid-19 vaccinations. The list of states where dentists are permitted to administer vaccinations is likely to grow in the coming months and years.
Oral Health Is Critical To Overall Health, Can Affect The Spread Of Infection
Expect lawmakers and governors in more states to take up this Oregon reform in 2021, as expanding access to vaccinations is at the forefront of policy debates. Not only that; there is new research from the British Dental Journal, the Journal of the California Dental Association, and DentaQuest indicating that good oral health can increase the likelihood that an infected person will survive Covid-19.
“There is evidence out there that patients with periodontal disease may be much more likely to have negative outcomes with COVID-19,” explains Michael Glogauer, professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry.
That dentists are so well-trained and situated to fight the spread of Covid-19 by providing testing and vaccinations is far from the only reason why health experts want dentists to remain open even in the event of any future shutdowns. The fact that oral health is so critical to overall health is seen as another reason why dentists should be allowed to continue providing care throughout the pandemic.
“Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health,” notes the Mayo Clinic website. The Mayo Clinic points out that “without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.”
Poor oral health is also associated with more threatening but less intuitive ailments. The Mayo Clinic notes that there are a host of serious diseases and conditions linked to oral health, including cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, certain cancers, and also pregnancy complications. The impact on overall health, coupled with a track record of safely providing care throughout the pandemic, is why it is likely state officials will ensure that dentists are allowed to continue treating patients, even in the event of future pandemic-related shutdowns.
“Dentists across the country have been treating patients for months. There is no evidence that routine dental care has contributed to the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Andrew Matta, co-founder and chief medical officer at North American Dental Group. “Routine care is often preventive care and it is extremely important in helping to avoid oral infections and diseases, which could impact a person’s quality of life…This pandemic has proven that it is time for dentistry to be recognized as a form of essential health care.”
It is widely recognized that dental practices can operate safely during the pandemic. Covid-19 transmission in the dental setting has proven to be rare, thanks to the precautions that clinics have been taking. Not only will state officials want to keep dentists in business throughout the pandemic because of this track record, we can expect lawmakers to look to the Oregon model as a way to further empower dentists to help fight the spread of Covid-19 in the coming weeks and months.
Article author: Patrick Gleason
Originally appeared in: Forbes