Like many other industries across the country, the dental industry has been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of society’s dental practices being forced to suddenly close back in March, dentists are now faced with a new challenge they were not prepared for. No dental school could have ever envisioned a situation like this, with such a prolonged period of interruption and drastic spur-of-the-moment changes having to be made.
Now, months later, as our communities begin to reopen, and we move forward in this new world of uncertainty, the role of dental professionals in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, is crucial. Since we have recently been given the green light to resume dental services, here are some thoughts on what to prioritize, while taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST
We’ve heard this on any flight we’ve ever taken, but there has never been a more literal sense to these instructions before now. Taking care of yourself first is of utmost importance. It should be your highest priority to make sure dental teams and patients are appropriately protected and safe. Months ago, COVID-19 set the world off on a mass frenzy collecting PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in order to protect our frontline healthcare workers from this virus and the acknowledgment of shortages was widespread. Although the pandemic has brought to light the various perspectives on the use of PPE in dentistry, it is paramount that dental offices are stocked with equipment, as it is the last control we have over protection against infectious disease. Masks, eye protection (goggles, protective eyewear with solid side shields, or a full-face shield), and a gown or protective clothing during procedures, are some of the important reinforcements and should mostly be the safety protocol to protect us if, in a rare instance, all of our other lines of defense against infection have failed.
The daily screenings of all dental staff, which include regular monitoring of temperatures and any other COVID-19 symptoms have been immediately put into place. No one should come to work if they are not feeling well and, in addition, should not be penalized for using their discretion in staying home. If, by chance, a dental healthcare worker or office staff suspects they have COVID-19, or have been around anyone who has tested positive, they should self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor themselves, before returning to work. Dental team members should also maintain the appropriate 6 feet apart measurement from each other when possible in the office.
KEEPING THE DENTAL ENVIRONMENT SAFE
At the beginning of this pandemic, household items, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer went flying off the shelves. Although we were reassured that toilet paper provides no protection against COVID-19, The World Health Organization guidelines did mention that hand hygiene was the best way to avoid contracting the virus. Months later, hand sanitizer is more readily available and is an absolute must as soon as anyone enters the dental office.
As well, surfaces in the examining rooms, such as dental chairs, dental lights, drawer handles and countertops, should be cleaned and disinfected before anyone re-enters the room. Any equipment with protective covers on them should be replaced after each patient. Non-disposable items, like dental tools, should be cleaned and sterilized between patients.
Disposable dental tools and needles are never reused. After each patient, disposable gloves and masks should be tossed out and everyone on the treatment team should wash their hands and put on a new pair of gloves before the next patient arrives.
These new radical changes in dentistry also requires patients to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus. Upon entry into the office, patients should be immediately screened for COVID-19, using the screening questions developed by their province or state’s ministry of health, as well as having their temperature taken. If a patient reports or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19, the appointment should be immediately canceled and not rebooked until they are symptom free after 14 days of isolation. One effective way to maintain physical distancing between patients is to schedule appointment times further apart, so patients do not cross paths with each other. Masks should be worn by patients upon entry and not removed while they are in the office, except when they are receiving treatment. Also, to maintain physical distancing in the waiting rooms, there should be only a few chairs that are placed 6 feet apart from each other. Waiting rooms should also no longer contain magazines, books, toys or any other common objects that risk contamination.
A FINAL THOUGHT
At the moment, it is still hard to get a sense of what the future will hold for dentistry. With so many things swirling around in our heads regarding our dental practices, our team, and our health, it is important that we work together and keep the communication open within the industry. People have suffered huge losses over the past few months and are just beginning to heal from this pandemic. They are eager to make dental appointments that they have missed due to COVID-19. This makes it imperative that we remain health advocates and allies with each other and to our patients. Let’s help to keep the COVID-19 case numbers low, but not give up hope on better days to come. This too shall pass.