Very few dental clinics continue to operate in Italy, work restricted to emergency dental care.
MILAN, Italy: Italy has become the European country worst affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, its confirmed cases of infection currently reaching 74,386, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the country is facing a nationwide lockdown, the pandemic has completely reshaped people’s daily lives, weakened the economy and boosted unemployment rates. To minimise the risks associated with contagion and slow down the spread, the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has recently ordered the shutdown of all non-essential factories and businesses. In the meantime, some dental offices continue to operate, offering patients emergency care only.
“It’s too early to exactly quantify the economic damage. We know that Italy, the whole country, will suffer a very significant decrease in terms of income, employment and welfare,” Linda Sanin, director of events and trade show organiser Promunidi, told Dental Tribune International. She added that, although the economic damage is mounting, the protection of people’s lives is of the utmost importance.
Illustrating the extent of the damage inflicted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the prime minister has called the pandemic the most severe crisis since the Second World War. Similarly to other countries affected by COVID-19, Italy is experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks, and although most dental offices are well equipped to fight cross-contamination, dental professionals in Italy have been urged by the government to suspend all non-urgent appointments to limit the movement of people. The order has practically left all dental hygienists on hold, and some dentists were confused as to what exactly would constitute emergency care.
To ease the heavy economic burden arising from the pandemic, some dentists are urging the Italian national agency for social security and assistance of physicians and dentists (Ente Nazionale di Previdenza ed Assistenza dei Medici e degli Odontoiatri) to reduce members’ monthly contributions by half. The agency is a compulsory privatised pension fund for medical and dental practitioners that provides retirement and welfare benefits to its members.
Dental emergency care
The Italian Society of Periodontology and Implantology (SIdP) recommends that patients only access dental care if their appointments cannot be deferred. The extent and immediacy of the dental emergency should be assessed on the phone by the attending dentist. Some examples of dental emergencies of an urgent nature, as identified by SIdP, include acute pain, infections such as a gingival abscess, and trauma. However, if the patient is at greater risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, shows symptoms or signs attributable to SARS-CoV-2 infection, or is in quarantine, the treatment should be postponed to a later time.
Preliminary assessment of the appropriateness of the provision of emergency care should include enquiring whether the patient has any symptoms or signs of infection, such as fever, a cold, a cough or difficulty breathing. Additionally, it should be determined whether the patient has been in contact with people with any of these symptoms or signs in the last 14 days and whether the patient has come from a high-risk area outside the national territory. In such cases, the SIdP recommends that all dental treatments should be postponed and the patient should be encouraged to contact his or her doctor and be asked to self-quarantine.
Needless to say, both patients and dental staff are required to follow strict cross-infection prevention guidelines during emergency dental care visits.
Expodental Meeting postponed to September
Expodental Meeting is the biggest dental event in Italy. The international exhibition was originally scheduled for 14–16 May, but safety concerns prompted the organiser to postpone the event to 17–19 September.
UNIDI, the Italian Dental Industry Association, has been the owner and organiser of Expodental Meeting since 1969. An official announcement on the meeting’s home page stated that, owing to the COVID-19 crisis, the general public alarm and the strict governmental restrictions, UNIDI has decided to postpone Expodental Meeting in order to safeguard exhibitors’ and visitors’ health. The event will still take place in Rimini on the new dates.
Making the best of a bad situation
According to Patrizia Gatto, publishing and event manager at Dental Tribune Italy, in a time of reduced professional activities, it is instrumental for dental professionals to stay in contact with their patients. This could be achieved by posting short videos or offering tips for maintaining optimal daily oral health at home. Additionally, if possible, dental professionals should use the time of professional inactivity to embark on continuing professional development opportunities via e-learning platforms, such as the DT Study Club.
More information about Expodental Meeting can be found here.
By 26 March, there had been 74,386 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy and 7,505 associated deaths, according to WHO.