PARMA, Ohio — The Ohio Dental Association said the latest report from the American Dental Association indicates nearly 91% of patients are now returning to their dentists to catch up on dental care the deferred due to the pandemic, but in some cases, it's causing a significant appointment backlog.
Some Northeast Ohio patients are reporting their dentists can't see them for non-emergency visits, like cleaning and check-up until early spring 2022.
Dr. Matthew Messina, Executive Editor with the Ohio Dental Association, told News 5 it's a good thing so many patients are now returning to regular dental care, but it's causing a rush on dental appointment openings. Messina said the late November ADA report also indicates some dentists are dealing with pandemic-related staffing shortages, causing longer wait times for an appointment.
“We have patients who have differed care and then we patients who have maintained their care at this point, and they’re all clumping together," Messina said. “The ADA report indicates one in three dentists are reporting they’re having a hard time hiring staff, and that 44% of dentists in that survey said that lack of staff was limiting their ability to see more patients."
Dr. Michael Alsouss with the Broadview Dental Group in Parma told News 5 despite the pandemic, his staffing is allowing his office to see 35 to 40 patients a day and still full-fill non-emergency appointments within three to four weeks. Alsouss closed his office for three months in 2020 due to state pandemic restrictions but said the vast majority of his 2,000 patients are returning to regular appointments.
Still, Alsouss understands why some local dentist are booking non-emergency appointments so far out.
"It was a lot of uncertainty, people did not know what to do, even us as professional providers, we did not know what to do," Alsouss said. “I’m one of those people who honestly closed my office for a little bit of time, but I was open for two-and-a-half days a week to help people out in their emergencies.”
“People are kind of reluctant because they’re nervous about what’s going to happen. But our patients always trusted the way we do things in the office in terms of infection control, in terms of making sure that they’re really protected.”
Alsouss said he understands the importance of sticking with a dentist a patient feels comfortable with and trusts, but said if a patient has to wait longer than three months for an appointment they could seek a simple cleaning and check-up elsewhere.
"I’m not telling people to leave their providers, I’m telling them to make some decision about their health, which is more important than anything else," Alsouss said. “I would recommend talking to family and friends, see how their dentist are doing. Are they comfortable with them, are they able to get them in right away?"
Meanwhile, Messina believes the current appointment backlog is simply a short-term bottleneck, instead of a long-term structural problem. Messina said patients can let their dentists know they're flexible when booking appointments for non-emergency visits.
“A lot of offices have set up short call lists, if your schedule is more flexible, tell them can you put me on a short call list," Messina said. "If somebody can’t make an appointment, they’ll call you and say can you come in this afternoon.”
“And while your waiting for that appointment don't forget to brush twice a day, floss or clean between your teeth once a day, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water.”
Dental-related COVID-19 information and resources on how to search for a member dentist can be found on the Ohio Dental Association website.