Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Fewer than 1% of dentists in the United States tested positive for COVID-19 as of June, a report published Thursday by the Journal of the American Dental Association found.
This percentage is "far below" that of other health professionals in the United States, the researchers said. Healthcare professionals in general are 12 times as likely to be diagnosed with the virus than the rest of the population, research suggests.
The report, based on the results of a survey of a representative sample of 2,200 dentists nationwide, found that 99% of dentists are using enhanced infection control procedures and disinfection practices when treating patients.
"This is very good news for dentists and patients," report co-author Dr. Marcelo Araujo said in a statement.
"This means that what dentists are doing -- heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental team safety -- is working," said Araujo, CEO of the American Dental Association Science and Research Institute.
The findings are significant because dentistry has been considered a particularly high-risk field during the pandemic, given that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets emitted from the nose and mouth of those infected, the ADA said.
In the spring, at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, data from O*NET, a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor, indicated that dentistry may be among the professions with the highest risk for infection because of the close proximity between providers and patients, the association said.
Patients who visit dental practices also are thought to be at risk for infection and, as a result, some states in the spring recommended that offices remain open only for emergency care.
The newly published report, however, indicates that steps taken based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADA have succeeded in limiting virus transmission, the researchers said.
The ADA's guidance calls for the highest level of personal protective equipment available -- masks, goggles and face shields. The guidance also recommends using rubber dental dams and high-velocity suction whenever possible, as well as hand scaling when cleaning teeth, rather than ultrasonic scaling, to minimize aerosols.
In addition to the low rate of infection among dentists, at 0.9%, 82% of those surveyed had no outward symptoms of the virus in the month before being interviewed, the researchers said.
Just under 17% of responding dentists said they had been tested for the virus, and 0.32% of those who hadn't been tested were given a probable COVID-19 diagnosis by a physician, the data showed.
"Understanding the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission in the dental setting is critical to improving patient and dental team safety," Araujo said.
"Dentists are following ADA and CDC guidance, and it's helping to keep the dental team and their patients as safe as possible," he said.