(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)
Last year was not a good year for many small businesses – and dentists didn’t escape the downturn either.
According to a recent survey from SoftwarePundit, a technology research firm that advises dental practices, the $139bn dental industry suffered a revenue decline of about 6% in 2020 compared with 2019, with dental hygiene appointments alone dropping 47%, as some put off hygiene and other dental work during the pandemic out of health and safety fears, while others (like me) just used the pandemic as a convenient excuse to avoid an appointment that we never enjoy.
That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that the profession is emerging from the downturn and many dentists are putting 2020 behind them. Some are even doing things in 2021 to not only help their practices recover, but to also give something back to the community.
Like distributing Covid vaccines.
Michael Riccobene, who runs a family dental practice in Goldsboro, North Carolina, has been dispensing hundreds of Moderna doses since mid-April. “One thing about getting it in the dental office is people are comfortable coming there,” Riccobene told a local television station. “A lot of people [in my office] were already used to dealing with diseases, so everyone is going to be in a proper PPE.”
Riccobene’s staff has been proactively calling patients and letting them know if they come in the office they can also get a vaccine shot.
“I think it’s a very comfortable environment to get the vaccine,” he said.
Riccobene is not alone. Other dentists across the country are also offering shots to their patients and community members. One dentist in Indian Trail, North Carolina, partnered with her husband – a local pharmacist – to take his overflow customers and provide shots onsite at her offices. Another dentist near Phoenix is not only providing shots for people who come to her office but also offering a home vaccination service for those who can’t.
“I just think it makes sense and it’s fulfilling a need that we have in the community to get more people vaccinated,” Lori Anderson told CBS 5. “They’ve been trying for days to get one for two hours at a time. It’s been very difficult for a lot of these people.”
The pandemic has also motivated many dentists across North America to give back to people in need, regardless of whether they were affected by Covid.
Derval Clarke, who owns Sovereign Dental in Ontario, launched a “When You’re Smiling” campaign this year which is giving $1,000 a month away for 10 months to an individual or family in need. “Many people in our community – our family, friends, neighbors and organizations have all been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and we want to help,” he told TB Newswatch.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to continue working throughout the lockdown as an essential service, so our team feels it’s essential to give back.”
Upstate New York’s Camillus Dental Associates has partnered with two local non-profits to allow people – particularly children – who suffer from disorders like autism to do “practice” visits to the office, a no-charge exercise where everything – from the waiting room to the PPE worn by staff and instruments used – are shown and explained in advance to better prepare the visitor for an actual appointment in the future.
Ron Roddy, who practices dentistry in Beavercreek, Ohio, has been offering professional teeth whitening and take-home whitening kits at significant discounts through 1 December this year and giving all profits to a local charity that serves underprivileged children.
“We see this as our opportunity to help in a twofold fashion, first we can give our patients, friends, neighbors the opportunity to brighten their smile and give kids a smile at the same time,” Roddy told a local news station.
Yes, 2020 was a challenging year for the dental industry. But oftentimes, hardships bring out the best in small business owners. Many dentists, like the ones I’ve mentioned above, didn’t let a slow economy stop them from giving back to their communities. In fact, it was the impact of the Covid recession – and the pandemic – that helped them better realize the things that should make them grateful. And they used their businesses to accomplish great things.
“We want to create beautiful smiles and it doesn’t have to be in a dentist chair,” continues Clarke. “When you’re smiling the whole community wants to smile with you.”