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Maintaining Access to Dental Services During COVID-19

Resource Topic: Clinical Issues, Emerging Issues, Special and Vulnerable Populations

Resource Subtopic: COVID-19, Oral Health (Dental Care).

Keywords: Access to Care, Persons Experiencing Homelessness.

Year Developed: 2021

Resource Type: Publication.

Primary Audience: Administrative Staff Clinicians

Language: English

Developed by: National Health Care for the Homeless Council (See other resources developed by this organization).

Resource Summary: At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, dental services were deemed non-essential and oral health services stopped. For people experiencing homelessness especially, however, dental services are critical. Over time, Health Care for the Homeless health centers innovated strategies to reopen and sustain access to these crucial services. This paper tracks themes from these innovations and recommends strategies to keep oral health services going during a pandemic.

Resource Details: The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the dental industry worldwide, causing most practices to close initially due to the high-risk nature of dentistry. Awaiting leading health organizations to develop new guidelines, dental practices struggled to reopen in the early months of lockdown, and while most practices have made progress to reopen, maintaining access is an ongoing struggle. Like many other health centers, Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) programs shut down oral health services at the onset of the virus’ spread, and their plans to reopen faced unique challenges. Given the urgency of the dental needs in this population and the fact that COVID-19 will persist in our communities for many months to come despite the distribution of vaccines, health centers must find strategies to sustain access to safe dental services. This issue brief synthesizes the prevailing recommendations from national dental organizations, adds considerations for serving people without homes, examines innovative strategies, and outlines remaining challenges. It also makes the case for why health centers must retain access to dental services, especially for clients experiencing homelessness.

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $6,375,000 with 0 percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.