Study shows over 2% positivity rate for asymptomatic pediatric dental patients tested for COVID-19

A study by a University of Illinois Chicago pediatric dentist has shown a new way to detect potential COVID-19 cases: testing children who visit the dentist. The study also showed a positivity rate greater than 2% for the asymptomatic children tested.

Dr. Association. Co-authors are Dr. Fernando Testai, UIC professor of neurology and rehabilitation, and Dr. Gabriela Trifan, UIC assistant professor of neurology and rehabilitation.

The study looked at pediatric patients who attended UIC dental clinics from April 1 to August 1, 2020 for emergency dental procedures. Children with COVID-19 are typically asymptomatic but can carry significant viral loads and be a source of infection. The patients were screened by phone prior to their scheduled visits and were asymptomatic when they arrived for their appointments. They were given a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 infection during their visit, Lamberghini said.

“The children tolerated the test fine. We were trained by a pediatrician to perform the test. We used the nasal swab. We told the children, ‘We’ll put a butterfly in your nose,'” said Lamberghini.

The patients, aged 2 to 18 years, with a mean age of 6 years, were tested. Sociodemographic features were abstracted and positivity rates were calculated. With the sample size of 921 patients, the overall SARS-Co-V-2 positivity rate was 2.3%. Positivity rates were statistically higher for Latino patients (3.1%), and 63% of the children studied were Latino.

Lamberghini notes that the study included no variables and no questions were asked about social distance and exposure to the virus. However, when a child tested positive for COVID-19, the researchers contacted the child’s pediatrician and caregivers and encouraged them to follow the recommended advice.

For most of them, it was a surprise to learn that their child tested positive. It was good for families to know, as these children can transmit the virus, especially in communities where large families tend to live together. “

Dr. Flavia Lamberghini, UIC Clinical Assistant Professor

It’s also important information for the oral health care providers, she added.

“As dentists, we are more exposed to COVID-19 disease because we work close to the mouth and our tools produce aerosols that can infect the dentist and dental assistant – whoever is around,” said Lamberghini.

Prior to the study, children undergoing dental procedures did not have to undergo PCR tests. The study concluded that PCR testing for COVID-19 of asymptomatic pediatric dentistry patients add value to the use of screening questionnaires to identify infected people who may be contagious.

The study, the first to look at the prevalence of COVID-19 in pediatric dentistry, also serves as a reference for pediatric dentists who closed during the pandemic and are considering reopening, Testai said.

“Despite these children being COVID positive, we did not observe any transmission to clinic personnel, which supports the idea that personal protective equipment works,” said Testai.


University of Illinois at Chicago

Journal reference:

Lamberghini, F., et al. (2021) Severe infection with the acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in asymptomatic pediatric dental patients. Journal of the American Dental Association.

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