Dental programs part of COVID-19 study spotlight

·2 min read

Futur dentists, dental hygienists-in-training and instructors of oral medicine in Manitoba are wanted for a new study on the risks associated with COVID-19 infection, transmission and immunity.

Ottawa has earmarked $1.4 million through its COVID-19 immunity task force to fund a national study that aims to investigate the effect the novel coronavirus has on people who work in dental clinics, labs and offices on university campuses.

The University of Manitoba is among 10 schools recruiting dental and dental hygiene students, as well as residents, faculty, and support staff involved with patient care to take part in the McGill University-led research project.

While many university programs have moved online amid the pandemic, dentistry students and staff have continued to do in-person labs to practise procedures on mannequins and patients.

“Many of our medical counterparts have transitioned to doing virtual consults with their patients, but it’s a little bit harder to do that with clinical dentistry,” said Dr. Robert Schroth, a professor and clinician scientist at the Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry in Winnipeg.

“We’re such a unique population, in that we’re very closely in confined quarters with aerosols.”

Despite heightened personal protective equipment, that reality puts dentistry students and staff, theoretically, at a higher risk for acquiring COVID-19, Schroth said, noting aerosol transmission is recognized as one of the main ways the novel coronavirus is transmitted.

The Manitoba Dental Association has released guidelines to encourage dentistry professionals to use aerosol-reduction techniques, including using a rubber dam and doing pre-procedural antiviral rinses, when treating patients.

Schroth said the research team behind the new study wants to know if existing preventive measures are working or if they need to be adjusted.

The researchers plan to secure 800 participants, from dentistry colleges in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Every month for a year, participants are expected to provide a saliva sample and answer a questionnaire.

The former will allow researchers to test samples for active SARS-CoV-2 infections, while the latter will allow for sociodemographic, socioeconomic, and health status information to be collected.

If an individual tests positive, they will be asked for additional saliva and blood samples so researchers can perform antibody tests to determine if they have any signs of immunity to COVID-19.

The research team will also collect data from each dentistry college about their training settings, infection-control protocols, counts of students and staff and total COVID-19 cases.

As vaccines roll out, participants who are immunized will be monitored to see what their immune response is like.

Manitoba recently broadened COVID-19 immunization criteria to include all health-care professionals who have direct contact with patients in dental offices.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press