With the help of regulatory and statutory changes in state capitals, American dentists are now able to help get more people vaccinated against Covid-19. 20 states now permit dentists to administer vaccines, something that had been authorized in only three states prior to the pandemic. While vaccine authorization for dentists has been legislatively enacted in some states in recent months, in others it’s been done by gubernatorial order.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D), for example, issued Executive Order 193 in February, allowing dentists in North Carolina to administer Covid-19 vaccines starting in March. Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry, which has 38 locations throughout the state, is now taking advantage of this new ability to protect patients from Covid-19.
“I feel like it’s my duty as a health care provider to do this,” Dr. Michael Riccobene said. “I’m not making any money. In fact, we’re actually procuring refrigerators. There’s a lot of cost and training. We’re burdening all the costs.”
Dr. Riccobene has had seven of his offices approved to administer vaccinations. He hopes to eventually have that capability in all of his 38 locations. Based on the initial rollout, Dr. Riccobene’s patients like the increased convenience of being able to get the Covid-19 shot at their local dentist’s office.
“I come here to get my teeth cleaned so I know the office,” said Alex Zacco of Cary, N.C., a Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry patient. “It’s right down the road.”
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“We’ve had a lot of good feedback from the patients and appreciate being able to have it done while they’re here at the dental office,” Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, a dentist at Riccobene Associates’ Cary office, told ABC News.
In 2019, Oregon became the first state to grant dentists broad authority to administer vaccinations when Governor Kate Brown (D) and state legislators enacted House Bill 2220, legislation permitting dentists to administer all vaccinations. Illinois and Minnesota permitted dentists to administer vaccinations prior to passage of that Oregon law, but that authorization only applied to influenza shots.
“We sponsored House Bill 2220 to increase access to care, providing additional opportunities for patients to receive life-saving vaccines from highly trained practitioners they already know and trust,” James McMahon, Oregon Dental Association President, said of the motivation for this reform. As predicted in this space five months prior, more states have since adopted this measure in response to the pandemic.
While, as Dr. Riccobene notes, additional training is required for Covid-19 vaccine administration, dentists — who have extensive education in microbiology, autoimmune response, and general anatomy — are already well-equipped to administer vaccines as they routinely inject shots into some of the most sensitive parts of the body. Simply put, a health professional who can skillfully give people a shot in the mouth is well-suited to give them a jab in the arm. Giving dentists the ability to administer vaccines in more states will help get Covid-19 vaccine shots into more arms, but it will also have utility beyond the pandemic.
“If you have a routine dental cleaning in the fall, just as the flu season typically starts, you can also get vaccinated at the same time,” said Dr. Philip Marucha, the dean of the OHSU School of Dentistry who helped write HB 2220. “This simple convenience can help bridge gaps in care and prevent the spread of infectious disease. We’re offering Oregonians another option that can make it easier to stay healthy.”
The Mayo Clinic and other leading health experts have published a wealth of research documenting how oral health is critical to overall health. As such, more policy makers are recognizing that dentistry isn’t just about keeping cavities and bad breath at bay. There is a growing recognition that policies that promote regular dental care for more Americans will translate into an overall reduction in public health expenditures.
Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently warned on CNBC that Covid-19 could be “a fact of life … for a number of years.” If that is the case and people need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, more state officials will likely be inclined to permit dentists to administer vaccines. By granting dentists the ability to protect their patients in this way, more people will conveniently be able to get their Covid-19 or annual flu shot during a regular teeth cleaning appointment.
“I really feel like this is our giving back to society and giving back to our community to make sure that we’re doing the right thing,” Dr. Riccobene said of his effort to vaccinate patients, which he hopes will help with getting “our economy back going and people getting back to some sense of normalcy of life.”
As more dentists like Dr. Riccobene are able to take action to protect their patients from Covid-19, expect lawmakers in more states to look to dentists as key to getting vaccines in enough arms such that life and society can return to pre-pandemic normalcy.