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MARK FUNKE: Pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for Nevada dentists

From bars and restaurants to gyms and theaters, we’ve all seen how this ongoing pandemic is wreaking havoc on all kinds of businesses in Nevada. Although most people don’t realize it, this list of hard-hit businesses also includes dental offices.

A recent survey from the American Dental Association shed some light on what many of my peers nationwide and here in Nevada are experiencing. According to an ADA survey of more than 19,000 dentists conducted in early November, about 40% of all dentists reported that they are now either losing money or barely breaking even in their business.

That compares to the beginning of the pandemic in March, when ADA’s ongoing series of surveys showed that only about 5% of all U.S. dentists reported losing money or only breaking even in their business. That’s eight times the financial distress in about eight months.

As sobering as this seems, I’m not surprised. As a longtime local dentist who has spent this year representing my peers as president of the statewide Nevada Dental Association, I hear such stories every day from my fellow dentists around the state.

Contrary to popular opinion, and like other working Nevadans, dentists are also facing tougher times today as we navigate how to care for our patients and keep our doors open as state leaders and public health experts are again urging us all to stay home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Nevada dentists were allowed to resume treating patients months ago. Since then, our revenues have been greatly reduced while our costs have skyrocketed. Most of these increased costs are due to the greatly increased cost of supplies, added safety equipment and precautions to protect patients and staff from this virus.

As the ADA survey suggests, most Nevada dentists are either having a very difficult time absorbing these increased costs, or are not able to absorb them at all. One reason for this is that most dental offices are contracted with health insurance companies that have already decreased the amounts they pay to reimburse dentists for the care they provide. These insurance contracts don’t allow dentists to raise prices for the services we provide, which in turn makes it difficult to cover the increasing costs of running a business.

As a result, some dental offices have been forced to add charges specifically to cover COVID-related costs, especially the cost of providing enhanced and increasingly costly PPE for patients and staff.

At the NDA, we encourage dentists who choose to bill their patients for these increased costs to be as transparent as possible when doing so.

Meanwhile, I ask for understanding from our patients and others. And I encourage all Nevadans to continue visiting their family dentist as usual – especially since we have proven locally and nationally that it is safe to do so. The health of our patients is extremely important to us. Putting off that visit to the dentist can lead to serious health problems down the road.

I just hope we don’t lose too many dental offices as we work our way through these trying times. The loss of a dental office is a loss to the workforce and a loss of access to care.

Dr. Mark Funke, DDS, is the president of the Nevada Dental Association.

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