THURSDAY, Feb. 25, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Dental hygienists have a low rate of COVID-19, even though their jobs are considered high-risk, a new study says.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared hygienists at high risk for COVID-19, so researchers decided to investigate.
They analyzed survey data collected in October from nearly 4,800 dental hygienists in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Just 3.1% of hygienists said they had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and those who had had the illness weren't clustered in any single region, according to findings in the February issue of the Journal of Dental Hygiene.
These initial findings were released Feb. 24 by the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) and the American Dental Association (ADA).
The COVID-19 rate among dental hygienists is similar to that among dentists and far below that of other health professionals in the United States. It is slightly higher than that of the general population.
More than 99% of hygienists surveyed said their primary dental practice had boosted infection controls in response to the pandemic. The majority of hygienists wore eye protection, masks, protective coverings and gloves during dental procedures.
"The dental team has been following strict infection control guidance since long before COVID-19," said study co-author Dr. Marcelo Araujo, chief executive officer of the ADA Science and Research Institute.
"This study is another proof point that dental care is safe for patients and dental professionals," he said in an ADA news release.
Co-author Ann Battrell, CEO of the ADHA, said the low infection rate is evidence that oral health care can be provided safely.
This "is critically important since the safety of dental hygienists and the patients they serve is of the utmost importance to ADHA and the dental hygiene profession," she said in the release.
A related study found that 8% of U.S. dental hygienists have left the workforce since the pandemic began. Of those, nearly 60% left voluntarily, citing reasons such as concerns about safety and the pandemic, as well as child care issues.
The American Dental Association has more on visiting the dentist during the pandemic.
SOURCE: American Dental Association, news release, Feb. 24, 2021