Ohio dentists fear for their patients and their financial futures

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NEWARK, Ohio — Dr. Benjamin Jump has been in practice almost 17 years at Moundbuilders General Dentistry in Newark. But, these days, his patient chairs are empty.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered a stop to all non-emergency medical procedures in the state in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and that included most dental procedures.

That put a strain on many dentists who also are essentially small business owners. Many were having to figure out whether to lay off employees or how to continue paying them.

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The nationwide CARES Act economic relief plan could help to alleviate some of that financial strain, but that doesn't help the patients.

"By and large, our mission is to take care of our patients, and that’s really what our primary concern is right now," Dr. Jump said. "While a majority of what we’re doing to help prevent the progression of disease is not life-threatening, per se, it is still a health crisis nonetheless."

Dr. Jump and other dentists worry about the long-term negative impact on their patients if they have to keep their doors closed for several months, or more. And while healthy patients may be just fine without a dental appointment for that long, Dr. Jump says 90 percent of his patients do not have healthy mouths, so their problems will only get worse.

"Unfortunately, like every disease that exists, dental diseases are progressive in nature, and so that’s our real big concern right now is that, while we’re choosing or being told we can’t do elective procedures, a lot of the elective procedures we do to prevent dental disease will progress, and so we’re looking at a potentially much more severe problem with dental problems once we return to work, whenever that may be."

Dr. Jump points out that, during every appointment, his office checks for oral cancer, which is a very aggressive form of cancer and could be life-threatening if left unchecked.

Still, Dr. Jump understands the need to get personal protective equipment, including masks, into the hands of healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.

It's something on the minds of many of the 5,300 member dentists in the Ohio Dental Association.

"We will coordinate with public officials to make sure those on the front line continue to have access to PPE," said David Owsiany, executive director of ODA. "That is the priority of the state, and we understand that, and we will do our part. Having said that, we also are hoping that this situation resolves itself sooner rather than later so we can get back open and treat the patients of Ohio."

Owsiany says he is in constant touch with the governor's office these days, and he has shared the concerns of the dentists his organization represents.

"Once the surge comes and we address that surge hopefully we’ll be able to then get our doors back open and take care of the oral health needs of Ohioans," he said.

Dr. Jump adds that he is confident he could keep his employees and patients safe if his office is able to reopen before the coronavirus crisis is fully over.

He says his team already surpasses the OSHA minimum standards when it comes to safety and protective gear.

"We’re going to do everything that’s in the best interest of protecting our patients, protecting our staff, protecting ourselves, but the reality is, yes, we are more than equipped, much more equipped than some of our medical colleagues, to fend of some of the concerns about COVID-19 and the transmission of COVID-19," Dr. Jump said.

Some dentists are even suggesting their practices could become coronavirus testing centers so that they can use their medical skills for this new need. But that is only a suggestion being floated right now.

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