Dentistry in the Age of COVID-19

There is no doubt the COVID-19 virus has changed the world forever. It has transformed the way we work, shop, socialize, eat, and our health care. Dentistry is certainly not an exception.

The truth of the matter is that viruses have always existed. Some are minor nuisances, while others can be deadly. It is not often that a virus shows up and changes the way we think about personal hygiene, sterilization, and disinfecting.

As a holistic dental office, one of our main focuses is the importance of maintaining a healthy diet to protect your overall health. Plenty of vegetables and fruits that are high in immune-boosting vitamins can be your first line of defense in fighting off viruses when they arrive. We encourage all of you to build your immunity by taking care of your body.

Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, increase your intake of vitamins, especially A, C, D, selenium, and zinc. Maintain healthy social connections with your friends and family through any number of options, including phone and video chat. Also, do your best to maintain whatever spiritual practices you have, so your emotional and mental health are also supported.

While having a healthy immune system can be our superpower, even Superman is vulnerable to kryptonite, so it is important that we take additional measures to help protect our immune system and those of others. It is also important to know that just because we have a strong immune system does not mean that we are not vulnerable. Even if we carry a virus and experience a mild illness, someone who is at a high risk, such as those with immune disorders, issues with the heart or lungs, and diabetes can be exposed through you, and the resulting outcome could be devastating.

So, yes, just like how dentistry changed when HIV/AIDS became the virus to dread, COVID-19 has changed the industry once again due to its highly contagious nature. Pre-HIV/AIDS dental providers did not even ear masks and gloves then, something unthinkable to most people today.

The following are some things you should not be surprised to see the next time you visit the dentist. These practices will be implemented to ensure everyone’s health and safety.

An Increase in PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)

Part of dental health and safety policy is the use of personal protection equipment. You have probably been hearing a lot about PPE since the advent of the novel coronavirus that leads to the more serious COVID-19. One thing you might not know is that dentistry is probably the most vulnerable occupation for exposure risk to illness. Since dentists work specifically with the teeth and mouth, saliva, which is one of the main carriers of germs, is nearly impossible to keep confined to the oral cavity. It is on the instruments we use during rinsing and polishing, when using ultrasonic scaling tools to clean teeth, and it lands on surfaces and clothing. This is why instruments are sterilized or disposed of between patients. Surfaces are disinfected with powerful cleaners that kill viral components such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, and staphylococcus.

In a dentist office, the employer is responsible for ensuring that staff are provided with whatever equipment they need to perform their duties safely and keep their patients equally safe. There are regulating agencies like OSHA that monitor these safety measures. Patients will find our masks have been upgraded. We are also using facial shields to help protect us from splatter. We have also secured protective gowns, head covers, and gloves. Staff and patients should feel confident that all measures are being taken in order to protect everyone. In addition, monitoring of staff at the beginning and end of the day with a symptom checklist and temperature check is also being implemented.

Patient Screening

Patient screening will now be an important part of keeping our staff and patients safe. It will start out with a phone call before all patient appointments. Patients will be asked a brief series of questions to determine their risk of having or coming into contact with coronavirus, including recent travel, existing symptoms, and exposure to someone who has tested positive. Patients who may have been exposed will be rescheduled to allow at least two weeks to pass before seeing the dentist, unless it is for an emergency. This allows enough time to pass for the person to be tested if he or she begins to exhibit symptoms. Patients will be asked to wear a mask to our office and to call us to reschedule their appointment if they wake up feeling ill on the morning of their appointment.

At this time, the CDC and the American Dental Association recommendations include advising individuals who have not been exposed and have pre-existing health conditions, not to see the dentist unless it is for a dental emergency. This is because they are at a higher risk. This applies mostly to people with existing health issues that compromise immunity and healthy hearts and lungs, especially elderly people. We will recommend high risk individuals who have not been exposed to delay their treatments until the curve has flattened or until the ADC and the CDC relaxes this guideline.

Next, when patients arrive for their appointments, they will be re-screened with the same questions, and their temperature will be checked. If the second screening represents a low risk of having been exposed, the appointment will go forward. Otherwise, the appointment will be rescheduled until at least two weeks have passed. We are limiting two people in our waiting room at a time and requesting others let us know they are here and wait in either their car or the hallway outside our office. All patients will be asked to sanitize hands and won’t be taken to the treatment room until the providers are waiting for them wearing the necessary PPE.

Removal of Items That Cannot Be Sterilized or Disinfected Easily

All items on counters have been put into drawers or cabinets for protection against contamination. Unfortunately, these will include magazines, books, brochures, and children’s playthings in the waiting area. Hopefully, we will eventually be able to bring back our lending library. If we have a business card or a specific dental brochure you would like to take for your information, one of our staff will get one for you.

Heightened Disinfection Measures

We now have one person doing the disinfection in all rooms, including the waiting room chairs, door handles, clipboards and pens, and all vertical and horizontal surfaces. All of our computer equipment in each operatory is covered with plastic barriers, which are replaced between every patient. We will also be making every effort to confine any procedures that create aerosolized particles to certain rooms and whenever possible. Our hygienist will be avoiding using the ultrasonic power scaler to decrease these particulates. You may also notice that the hygienist will be polishing before she scales instead of after. The reason behind this is that although the polishing does not generate as much of the aerosolized particles as the ultrasonic scaler, it does generate some, which stays suspended in the air for up to 45 minutes. This allows time for the particles to land and disinfection to occur before the next patient is seated.

We know this is a strange time, and keeping all of us healthy is the kindest and most caring thing we can do for each other. We appreciate your patience and hopefully some sense of humor around all these changes.