Blayr Young, a 4-year AP student and writer at Mount Carmel High School’s paper in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The Caravan, wrote a piece that looked at the struggles of dentists such as his mother, Dr. Shelley Young, during the pandemic. Being labelled as an “essential worker” is an honour and a responsibility that is placed upon public sector or private sector workers whose work is so important to the functioning of society that they are permitted to work during the pandemic. Though it is left to individual states to determine what an essential worker is, they are guided by the 2013 Essential Services Act, which limits classification to those industries that ensure the protection of property and the safety of human life. Broadly, then, workers in food production, health care provision and emergency services, law enforcement and public safety, among others, can be classified as essential workers. This gives a sense of the importance of what it means to be an essential worker. These are the few who, when health guidelines demand that the rest of society stay at home for their own health, are asked to remain at work, keeping society going. 

Dentists, such as Dr. Young, are at high risk of contracting Covid-19. You see, dentistry is a face-to-face job, done within eight inches of the patients maskless face. As Spectrum News points out, dentists are some of the few medical professionals who serve their patients primarily when their patients’ masks are off. Furthermore, dentistry often creates a lot of aerosols: for example, when using a high speed drill, with speeds of 450,000 miles per hour, drilling can generate aerosols within a 15 foot radius around the dentist. In their role as essential workers, dentists take on huge risks in terms of catching Covid-19. 

Dr. Young owns and runs a mobile dentist company, Universal Smiles, that has an office in Calumet City. Covid-19 restrictions forced the company to close from late March to October. The state banned school-based dentistry and this forced Dr. Young to close the company. The ban was only lifted on 12 January, but it will still take a month or so to reopen the company. 

Dentists across America, not just mobile dentists, have suffered during the pandemic. Naturally, many people with dental problems have delayed going to see a dentist because of fears of infection. In March of last year, dentists experienced an 80% decline in patient volumes, a figure which has recovered to 30%. 

Many dentists’ have had to close their offices because they simply could not afford the cost of upgrading  personal protection equipment (PPE) and also due to the fact that many patients would push off their cleanings. The limited supply of PPE coupled with high demand, has led to soaring PPE prices and forced many of those dentists that have been able to remain open, to charge a $10 PPE fee. An example of the rising cost of PPE is provided by Young, who says that latex  gloves have gone from $12 a pair to $65. So, more money is spent to take care of fewer workers. Finding a good dental office like Perry Family Dental Clinic, has become harder and harder given that so many dental clinics have been forced to close down. 

Reopening has been met with a great deal of relief and Dr. Young is grateful to be among the first to be vaccinated. Yet, we must not forget just how hard it has been for dentists and other frontline workers.