The den­tal indus­try may be a good indi­ca­tor of whether Amer­i­cans have ful­ly recov­ered from the pan­dem­ic, accord­ing to a June New York Times arti­cle. This is because den­tists offer a unique ser­vice that has no clear alter­na­tive.

Since the coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) pan­dem­ic hit the U.S. in ear­ly March, the nation­al econ­o­my has seen a down­turn and a sub­se­quent uptick. The den­tal indus­try expe­ri­enced an ampli­fied ver­sion of these nation­al employ­ment trends, with half of all den­tal work­ers los­ing their jobs in March and April, and 94% of den­tist offices rehir­ing their full staff by mid-August.

Getting dentists back into the office

Stim­u­lus pro­grams may be a key fac­tor in help­ing den­tists to weath­er this storm. Prac­tices that took part in the fed­er­al Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram were more like­ly to remain open than those that didn’t.

Even after job gains since June, the den­tal indus­try still has 289,000 few­er work­ers than it did before the pan­dem­ic. That sug­gests to Bet­sey Steven­son, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor quot­ed in the Times arti­cle, that the indus­try — and the rest of the Amer­i­can econ­o­my — is far from recov­ered.

What does the future look like?

Though den­tist offices have been open for sev­er­al months, it’s unclear whether their patient bases will return. In mid-June, most states gave den­tist offices the go-ahead to reopen ful­ly, but in August patient vol­umes were still low­er than what they were before the pan­dem­ic. The rate at which patients were return­ing has even tapered off as of mid-August and some econ­o­mists don’t pre­dict patient vol­umes to return ful­ly before the end of 2020.

This hes­i­ta­tion is a sign of mul­ti­ple prob­lems fac­ing patients dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Some patients may feel cau­tious about remov­ing their masks for a close-up pro­ce­dure. Oth­ers may think that since they haven’t noticed any den­tal issues since the pan­dem­ic start­ed, they can go a lit­tle longer with­out get­ting a den­tal clean­ing. Some peo­ple can sim­ply no longer afford den­tal pro­ce­dures after los­ing their jobs and their insur­ance ben­e­fits through their employ­ers. Econ­o­mists who spoke to the Times pre­dict that employ­ment rates for den­tists will even­tu­al­ly return to where they were before the virus hit, even though it may be slow going.