Area dentists struggle with reduced business during pandemic

It's a vital industry that's taken a big hit since the start of COVID-19.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:24 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Throughout the pandemic, businesses in Oregon have struggled to keep their doors open because of the impacts and challenges that have come with COVID-19.

Among the businesses who have been hit hardest are local dentists. Since dentistry requires close personal contact with patients, doing business safely during the pandemic has required costly closures and upgrades.

At Hi5 Dental in Beaverton, Hai Pham estimates he’s spent close to $80,000 on safety upgrades, like improved ventilation. He’s also seen fewer patients.

“It’s been hard,” said Pham. “We can’t have as many people in the office. So with social distancing, we can’t open all of our chairs.”

Dentists around the country are in the same situation. The American Dental Association has tracked the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. dental economy since March, 2020. Its most recent survey found 38% of providers had lower patient volumes than they did pre-pandemic. (47% in Oregon.) Providers also reported a more than 10% decrease in revenues.

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Pham was able to secure a PPP loan, but also had to shut down entirely for three months at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It would be great to have more resources that we can get more help. Because not everybody bounced back,” said Pham.

In recent months, patients have gradually come back, but Pham is still well short of pre-pandemic business levels, and he isn’t sure things will ever go back to “normal.”

“Any type of business right now, we’re all hurting. You know? But that’s just part of the pandemic. We’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together,” said Pham.

Surveys indicate that dentists, by and large, aren’t yet banking on a bounce-back. Just under half of those surveyed said they will not be hiring more staff or investing in new equipment in the next three months.