Dental Tribune International

COVID-19: How are Australian and New Zealand dentists faring?

By Brendan Day, DTI
April 22, 2020

SYDNEY, Australia: Though Australia and New Zealand have, thus far, been able to avoid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, both nations’ economies have nevertheless taken significant hits with the partial or complete shutdown of many industries. The impact of this downturn has been directly felt by the countries’ dental workforces, many of whom have had their workloads curtailed by government restrictions.

To this point, both Australia and New Zealand have been able to contain the spread of the coronavirus so that COVID-19 patients have not overwhelmed their respective hospitals’ intensive care units. According to the World Health Organization, as of 21 April, Australia has recorded 6,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 71 associated deaths, while there have been 1,107 cases and 13 associated deaths in New Zealand.

Restrictions have helped flattened the curve

In Australia, the Australian Dental Industry Association (ADIA) brought ADX20 Sydney, Australia’s largest dental exhibition, to an early closure last month after the national government issued initial recommendations limiting the number of people gathering for any event. Since then, dental professionals in Australia have been placed under Level 3 restrictions, meaning that they have essentially been unable to provide many routine dental treatments except for emergency situations. Yesterday, however, the government further announced that there would be move back to Level 2 restrictions effective April 27, which will allow dentists to offer a broadened range of treatments.

“The severity of COVID-19, and the scale of government, business and citizen response required took many in Australia by surprise,” Kym De Britt, CEO of the ADIA, told Dental Tribune International. “Our industry is directly experiencing the effect COVID-19 is having on the economy, both here and internationally.”

Though the strict measures have caused many dental practices across Australia to shut down for the time being, there are other things that dentists can potentially do to help out in this time, according to De Britt.

“The best action Australian businesses can take right now is to familiarise themselves with fair work legislation to ensure they are doing the right thing by their employees and apply for all relevant financial stimuli,” he said. “We also strongly encourage businesses with manufacturing and construction capabilities, along with those that are a part of the healthcare supply chain, to consider how they can adapt to become part of the national response.”

In the meantime, the Australian Dental Association has released new guidelines for those seeking to offer teledentistry services for patients in self-isolation who require an urgent diagnosis for an acute dental event.

New Zealand dentists face PPE shortage

Dental professionals in New Zealand are facing similar restrictions to those in Australia. The country is currently at COVID-19 alert Level 4, which, according to the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA), means that those not working in essential services must stay at home and stop all interactions with others outside of their households.

In a recent interview on Newshub, NZDA President Dr Katie Ayers argued that access to personal protective equipment (PPE) was becoming a growing problem for the country’s dental workforce, who were having to ration their PPE supplies while treating emergency cases. A survey released by the NZDA on 31 March showed that 656 dentists across the country had shut down their practices owing to not possessing adequate stocks of PPE.

“We don’t just want [PPE]; we need it—it’s essential. We can’t work without it,” Ayers said.

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