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Researchers estimate 0.9% of dentists COVID-19–positive in early months of pandemic

Oct. 16, 2020
A survey of 2,195 dentists taken in June found that 20 had likely contracted COVID-19. The findings were published ahead of print yesterday in the November 2020 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association.

According to a report published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, 0.9% of US dentists are estimated to have been COVID-19–positive in the early months of the pandemic.1 

The authors of the report analyzed a nationwide American Dental Association (ADA) survey taken in early June. They found that "[i]n all, 20 of the 2,195 respondents had been infected with COVID-19; weighted by age and location to approximate all US dentists, 0.9% (95% CI: 0.5-1.5) had confirmed or probable COVID-19."

Sources of infections were not available for all instances. The authors stated, "The likely source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission was identified via contact tracing through a health agency or clinic in only 5 cases, and in none of those cases was the source of transmission the dental practice."


Dr. Chris Salierno interviews Drs. Marcelo Araujo and Marko Vujicic, two authors of the new report in The Journal of the American Dental Association that estimates the prevalence of COVID-19 among US dentists

Although findings were preliminary, they may suggest dental professionals were at lower risk for clinical transmission of coronavirus than feared thanks to increased safety precautions. The report, titled "Estimating COVID-19 prevalence and infection control practices among US dentists," found that 99.7% of dentists used greater infection control procedures, such as screening protocols and enhanced disinfection practices. Additionally, 72.8% used personal protective equipment according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's interim guidance for COVID-19. At the time of the survey, however, some practices were newly reopened or seeing a limited number of patients, which may have affected results.

“This is very good news for dentists and patients,” said Marcelo Araujo, DDS, PhD, MS, in an ADA press release.2 "This means that what dentists are doing—heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental team safety—is working.” Dr. Araujo serves as chief science officer of the ADA and was the senior author of the report.

The findings are believed to be the first large-scale collection of US dentists’ infection rates and infection control practices related to COVID-19. The authors, who include members of the ADA Science and Research Institute and Health Policy Institute, are continuing to collect data and plan to publish additional findings on infection rates among dentists. Dental hygienists are also being surveyed in collaboration with the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

“Understanding the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission in the dental setting is critical to improving patient and dental team safety,” said Dr. Araujo. “This study brings us another step forward in understanding what works. Dentists are following ADA and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, and it’s helping to keep the dental team and their patients as safe as possible.”

The ADA’s interim COVID-19 guidance calls for the use of rubber dams and high velocity suction whenever possible and hand scaling when cleaning teeth rather than using ultrasonic scaling to minimize aerosols.

The report is set to be presented at the ADA FDC Virtual Connect Conference, a joint meeting of the ADA and Florida Dental Association, being held October 15–17.


  1. Estrich CG, Mikkelsen M, Morrissey R, Geisinge ML, Ioannidou E, Vujicic M, Araujo MWB. Estimating COVID-19 prevalence and infection control practices among US dentists. J Am Dent Assoc. 2020;151(11):815–824.
  2. Report finds COVID-19 rate among dentists is less than one percent. American Dental Association. October 15, 2019.

Zachary Kulsrud is the editorial director for Endeavor Business Media's dental group, publishers of Dental EconomicsDentistryIQPerio-Implant Advisory, and RDH magazine.