(Bloomberg) -- Dentists and orthodontists who are clamoring to re-open their businesses as states across the country ease some restrictions on stay-at-home orders face another hurdle to welcoming back patients: a lack of protective equipment.
The nationwide shortage of things like gloves, masks and face shields has thrown a wrench into hopes that dental offices and other private practices can reopen smoothly when local governments and the American Dental Association give the all-clear. The difficulty some doctors have had getting their hands on critical personal protective equipment (PPE) has dentists asking how they can best resume business.
“There’s a nationwide shortage of PPE,” Dr. Jon Marashi, a partner and the lead dentist for Byte, a company that makes direct-to-consumer clear aligners, said in an interview. “It’s in the hospitals and the hospitals are the front-line responders and they’re the first to get it, but for private practices we’re way down lower on the totem pole.”
That shortage of equipment may even pit different medical offices against one another and against other industries as they look to snatch up items like gloves and masks. The lack of availability for U.S. consumers and companies was brought up during Henry Schein Inc.’s quarterly earnings call Tuesday.
“Please remember one thing: that restaurants and other places where the public is now going to be visiting once the social distancing is removed will be huge buyers of gloves and masks,” Henry Schein chief executive officer Stanley Bergman said. While those masks aren’t likely to be the same that a dental professional would wear, they are “going to be competing for supply of product.”
Henry Schein sees an opportunity similar to the 1980s to expand the category of PPE, though there will be competition to produce those products and there will likely be narrowed restrictions put in place, Bergman said.
Sales at Schein’s medical unit had their best growth in about four years as the coronavirus pandemic fueled higher demand for PPE products, the earnings report showed. While some investors initially cheered the sales, management noted that sales so far in the second quarter have been hurt by Covid-19.
“Knowing what PPE is needed and the obtainment of the proper PPE,” together with “covering the cost of the PPE and the necessary team hours needed to maintain a healthy environment,” are among the most pressing issues for Dr. Jonathan Torma, who runs a one-doctor office in New City, New York.
Having enough patients return to the office to have treatment they can afford and the ability to keep paying staff while paying himself are among Torma’s other worries.
On Tuesday, a random check of The Dentists Supply Company’s TDSC.com, which sells dental supplies and small equipment online, showed many PPE offerings were out of stock. A warning on the TDSC site told dental practices, “Due to limited product availability and increased costs, you may experience higher prices on masks and other infection control items in addition to disruptions in product availability and delays in order processing times.”
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