Dental Schools and Allied Dental Programs Receive Millions of KN95 Masks Thanks to ADEA, FEMA and Henry Schein, Inc.

By LaShell Stratton-Childers, ADEA Senior Editor

This summer, the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Henry Schein, Inc., a health care products and services distributor, joined forces to embark on a massive undertaking—coordinating the distribution of millions of 3M-made KN95 masks to dental schools and dental hygiene and dental assisting programs throughout the United States. The project took place in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to aid schools with resuming their clinical instruction while also helping to ensure the safety of students, faculty, staff and patients.

In the end, more than 3 million masks were shipped to approximately 300 dental schools and dental hygiene and dental assisting programs, along with a few dental laboratories and one dental therapy program. For those that received these shipments, the masks couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, especially when there continues to be a national shortage of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 positivity rates are still rising in several states, college budgets have been sliced as a result of the pandemic and schools face the challenge of dividing Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding among multiple programs.

“I am ever so grateful to ADEA and FEMA because we have challenges every day just running a clinic,” said Lisa Bilich, RDH, B.S.D.H., M.S.Ed., Professor and Dental Hygiene Department Chair at Eastern Washington University, which received 8,500 masks. “To take this one thing off my plate as a department chair has been so wonderful. I feel like at least I can get through another few months and not have to worry about masks.”

ADEA President and CEO Karen West, D.M.D., M.P.H., said the initiative underscores the Association’s commitment to helping the dental education community navigate the rough pandemic terrain.

“The challenges faced by professionals in dental education are enormous, and we stand with them,” Dr. West said. “ADEA will continue to work with key partners to support our members, and the academic dental and allied dental communities at large, every way we can.”

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Like Searching for “Unicorns and Rainbows”

KN95 Photo1Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville, OH, ordered 3,000 KN95 masks. Prof. Tammy L. Graham (pictured here) was relieved that she could tell all their dentist volunteers they now had proper PPE thanks to the ADEA, FEMA and Henry Schein, Inc., donation effort. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Gateway Community College.)

When the email from ADEA offering free masks arrived in the mailbox of Tammy L. Graham, CDA, EFDA, RDH, M.H.Sc., Assistant Professor and Program Director of Dental Assisting and Expanded Function Dental Assisting (EFDA) at Eastern Gateway Community College, she admitted she was incredulous.

“When you see something like that, you’re like, ‘Hmm, yeah, I’m not sure if this is going to happen,’” Prof. Graham said. “But I thought I had nothing to lose, so I just filled out the information they were requiring and, honest to goodness, what a blessing it is that we received this.”

Prof. Graham said the dental assisting and EFDA programs had previously secured some KN95 and N95 masks thanks to CARES ActPDF funding, but there was a misunderstanding regarding the type of masks that were needed.

“I don’t want to say we didn’t have access to the KN95 or the N95, but some of the ones that we got were respirators, which when you are working in a situation during COVID, we know that that’s not something we should be wearing,” she said.

But requesting more CARES Act funds from the college to buy more masks wasn’t an option, and there were budget cuts in Ohio at the state level, Prof. Graham said, which means the school faced a serious dilemma: How would it get enough suitable masks to run the dental clinic in January?

Kristen Buoy, M.Ed., RRT, RCIS, Dean of Health Sciences at Gwinnett Technical College, faced similar challenges trying to procure enough usable masks for her college. Not only did the school have to acquire N95 and KN95 for its dental assisting program, but also for the paramedic and EMS program, another high-risk group.

“So, we’ve been trying to acquire them for quite some time and as you can imagine it’s been extremely difficult,” Prof. Buoy said. “And the ones we could actually get delivered, we had to be very judicious in how we use them.”

Dental assisting students at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, GA, received their shipment of masks on Oct. 20. Here, several students pose during fit testing. (Photo courtesy of Lea Anna Harding, Program Director for Dental Assisting.)

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“Finding [masks] and ordering them is like asking for unicorns and rainbows,” said Prof. Bilich.

Eastern Washington University was able to secure some N95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic, but because of the limited supply, they had to limit aerosol-generating procedures in their dental clinics despite these procedures being a necessary part of the clinical curriculum.

“In Washington, hygienists can do restorative. We always knew there was going to be aerosols, because to do restorative, you have to have aerosols,” Prof. Bilich said. “We knew that we had to look for any means in finding NIOSH-approved N95. We had some, but again, we are just continually trying to find them so we can stay ahead.”

They also needed N95 masks for examinations because Washington State does not allow non-live patient exams. “We had to give enough PPE to the examiners for [the Western Regional Examining Boards,]” she explained.

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Answering a Desperate Call

With such a huge and immediate need, the mask orders came streaming in.

“Receiving, confirming, placing and invoicing around 300 orders was a tall task,” said Alex Prescott, ADEA Publications and Membership Manager, and one of several ADEA staff members who worked on the mask distribution. “The number was in line with what we expected, but my biggest surprise was how quickly and efficiently, with the cooperation of the dental schools and allied programs, we were able to turn these orders around.”

Mr. Prescott said the “pre-order process” began on Sept. 21 and within a month, nearly 3 million masks had already been delivered. Many of the schools that received the masks keep reiterating how important they are not only for the students and the colleges, but for the local communities.

“It’s just been really challenging to keep our clinic open, but we have to have more plans than even private practice offices,” Prof. Bilich said. “That’s been helpful for our patients. They feel safer here than some private practice offices. We’re grateful for that because we are the dental home for some of the neediest patients in Spokane County. So, without us, they don’t have a dental home and they go without dental care, and it just gets worse and worse.”

But now, like many other schools, Eastern Washington University can continue dental clinic operations thanks to the KN95 mask shipments. “We’re taken care of,” Prof. Bilich said. “[The masks] came at the right time.”

Dean Nader Nadershahi, D.D.S., M.B.A., Ed.D., of the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I know the hygiene lab technicians and other programs all will be able to take advantage of this generous support in helping to keep their faculty, staff, students, residents and patients safe in the coming months,” Dr. Nadershahi said.

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A shipment of KN95 masks arrives at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. (Photo courtesy of Dugoni School.)

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