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ADA president: ‘This will pass’

Dr. Gehani talks candidly about COVID-19 pandemic, dentistry’s future

April 15, 2020

By Jennifer Garvin

Image of Drs Gehani and Shapiro COVID-19 YouTube
Candid conversation: ADA President Chad P. Gehani, right, and Dr. Betsy Shapiro, ADA Practice Institute, discuss COVID-19.
“Dentistry is very resilient to any obstacles put in front of the profession. It’s a great profession and if I have to do it over again, I would again want to be a dentist.”

Those were the words of ADA President Chad P. Gehani in a candid interview with Dr. Betsy Shapiro, director of the ADA Center for Professional Success and host of the ADA podcast, "Beyond the Mouth,” about the Association’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conversation, which took place April 9 over a Zoom video call, is available on YouTube.

During the 18-minute discussion, Dr. Gehani addressed the ADA’s recommendation for dentists to postpone nonurgent procedures until April 30, the interim guidance for treating emergency patients and figuring out next steps for the profession’s economic recovery phase.

“What are the ADA’s priorities right now?” Dr. Shapiro asked.

“The American Dental Association has our back,” Dr. Gehani said. “We want to be the primary resource for the practicing dental community” and “We want to pass on information that is evidence-based, that is science based, and that is very much factual.”

One of the best ways to do that, he said, is for dentists to visit ADA.org/virus for the latest information as well as to read the ADA Morning Huddle, an email delivered to members’ inboxes Monday-Saturday.

“Even though I am the president, every time I log on to [ADA.org/virus] I learn something new,” Dr. Gehani said. “And I also read the Morning Huddle. That gives me up-to-date information. These are two of my best resources where I get all of my dental information and I get information on what’s happening to the practice of dentistry.”

As the Association begins to work on the recovery phase following the economic impact of the pandemic, Dr. Gehani said the ADA is in regular touch with the national and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration.

“Right now, safety is more important than anything else,” he said. “As the leader of our community, the ADA has to follow what’s right for all of us, what’s right for all of our patients.”

Regarding the April 30 date for dentists to postpone all but urgent and emergency procedures, Dr. Gehani said the Association picked that date “because it was in the best interest of our dental patients and dental team members.”

“It’s only a recommendation. Dentists need to follow what’s being asked of them in their own states — either by their state boards or by their governors,” said Dr. Gehani, who added that he has appointed an Advisory Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery, which is developing tools to help dentists reenter their practices as that becomes possible.

“As an experienced practicing dentist, what advice do you have for your colleagues out there?” asked Dr. Shapiro.

“I was trained at Columbia University in 1977 and I was trained to perform dentistry with my bare hands — there were no gloves — and we occasionally used face masks doing surgery,” Dr. Gehani recalled. “At that time, if someone had hepatitis that was the end of the world. Then, when I started my practice in 1982, we learned about human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. We didn’t think we’d survive that at that time but we survived it. What happened is that the practice of dentistry was slightly modified. That’s when we started wearing gloves and masks [and aprons and the gowns] and we survived.

“We have been hit by this pandemic like a tsunami. Every day there is new news — it’s a moving target. This will pass by. We will see good days at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the practice of dentistry may be slightly modified and I don’t know what’s at the end of the tunnel, but that’s where the ADA is working hard.”

The pandemic has also touched Dr. Gehani personally.

“I have three families,” said Dr. Gehani, an endodontist who practices in Jackson Heights, Queens. “My personal family, my wife and family; my dental family, the ADA and the state and component societies; and my practice family.”

Jackson Heights has been hit hard by the coronavirus with nearly 1,500 cases in that ZIP code alone. Local religious officials and neighbors have kept him up to date on those people he knows who may have been affected by the virus but he hasn’t been to his office since March 16 and he’s been unable to attend religious services to say prayers for his patients and neighbors.

“It hits home,” he said. “It has been a tough month for me and my wife because Jackson Heights is our family.”

For the latest updates about issues surrounding COVID-19, visit ADA.org/virus.