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COVID-19: Study reports constant fear and anxiety among dentists worldwide

AL-HOFUF, Saudi Arabia: COVID-19 has not only impeded access to healthcare, but also caused fear and anxiety among healthcare workers. After conducting a study to understand how dentists in different parts of the world are coping with the fear of acquiring the disease and what strategies and modifications dental practices are implementing in order to combat SARS-CoV-2, researchers have highlighted the devastating psychological effects that the disease has had on dental professionals.

In the study, the researchers surveyed a total of 650 dentists from 30 countries using online questionnaires. Most dentists (76%) were working in a hospital setting, and of these, 74% were in private and 20% were in government institutions. The findings showed that more than two-thirds (78%) of general dental practitioners experienced anxiety and stress owing to concern about the adverse effects of COVID-19. The majority of the dentists (90%) were aware of the recent changes in treatment protocols, but only 61% said their practices have amended treatment protocols for infection control as a result of the pandemic.

“It was interesting to note that, despite having a high level of knowledge, dentists all over the globe are living in a state of constant fear of acquiring the disease while performing routine dental treatments. This anxiety has led to the modification of their practices or duty hours and the provision of emergency dental care only. Some of the dentists have had to shut down their practices for an indefinite period until the situation is safely under control,” co-author Dr Muhammad Adeel Ahmed, assistant professor and consultant in the department of restorative dentistry and endodontics at King Faisal University in al-Hofuf, told Dental Tribune International.

When asked what measures could be taken to reduce the anxiety and stress associated with the disease, Ahmed stated that the government and the respective health organisations should arrange mandatory continuing medical and/or dental education sessions and workshops for dentists, dental hygienists and other staff in order to help them understand the guidelines regarding the provision of dental care services during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

“This will not only increase the knowledge of the dentists, but also reduce their anxiety levels and create a positive change in their attitudes towards providing dental care to patients,” he noted.

Additionally, Ahmed believes that the government should provide financial and moral support to all healthcare providers, including dentists, who become infected while performing their duties. This would encourage and motivate dentists to fight on the front line along with doctors, he stated. The government should also make sure that dental professionals have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). “The cost of the PPE should also be nominal and easily affordable for the dentists,” he commented.

“In this time of uncertainty and panic, some psychological sessions on fear reduction should also be conducted by a team of trained psychologists and counsellors in order to lower the anxiety levels among all dental care providers,” he added.

Finally, sound knowledge of the virus and its mode of transmission would also help alleviate anxiety among dental professionals.

The study, titled “Fear and practice modifications among dentists to combat novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak”, was published online on 19 April 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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