In the spring of 2020, the United States was inundated with mandatory shutdowns and closures in reaction to the novel virus COVID-19. Since that time, dentist’s offices have sought a way to safely reopen their doors and once again treat patients.
However, seeking to safely open and serve patients in the midst of a pandemic has taken more than a little adjustment.
Why Do Dentists Have to be So Careful?
As scientists have studied the COVID virus and learned more about the way it’s transmitted, it has been discovered that transmission may occur through bodily fluids, especially those in the mouth. Obviously, since dentists and hygienists work in their patients’ mouths, this presents an especially problematic situation.
Dentists and their staff may be at exceptionally high risk when seeing patients, especially since patients cannot wear PPE or masks during their treatment. Therefore, dentists have had to go to great lengths to keep themselves and their staff as safe as possible while serving patients throughout the COVID outbreak.
Seven Dental Clinic COVID Guidelines for Dental Practices
Practicing dentistry in the midst of a global pandemic is far from routine, and there are several changes dentists can implement to seek to reduce the risk to their staff and themselves when treating patients.
Obviously, to stop seeing patients entirely is impossible because patients still have dental emergencies like abscesses, cavities, broken teeth and more even during a crisis. Here are seven actions that dental offices have taken to seek to reduce the risks during the pandemic:
1. Reschedule Elective Procedures
While the procedures like broken teeth, cavities, a broken crown or an abscess require immediate attention, elective or routine procedures can wait.
For example, instead of scheduling patients to come in for teeth whitening or caps for cosmetic purposes only, some dentists have prioritized patients who are in need of critical dental services.
Of course, you have to get back to doing these elective procedures eventually but some dentists consider this a temporary state with a goal of returning to these procedures as soon as possible.
2. Implement Triage Protocols
Instead of triaging patients in-office as you would usually do, some practices have been implemented triage protocols that quantify the type of care a patient needs ahead of time.
For example, these practices have their staff call patients before their visit and assess their dental condition. In some cases, dental practices opt for a teledentistry visit so a patient doesn’t have to be seen in person.
3. Screen Staff and Patients
Many dental practices have been making sure that everyone who sets foot in their offices is screened for signs of the virus.
This includes taking their temperature before they enter the office and asking them questions like if they have had any COVID related symptoms or been around anyone diagnosed with COVID in the past two weeks.
4. Limit the Number of Patients in the Practice at Once
Ensuring a social distance of at least six feet is the goal, as is keeping the office as sparsely populated as possible. Because dental practices have an indoor space and air is moving around the building through the various stations via the central air system, many practices have tried to limit the number of patients that visit each day.
It’s impossible to prevent patients from breathing into the air during their cleaning or vital procedure. However, reducing the amount of patients who visit the office at the same time may enable better social distancing.
5. Enforce Facial Coverings, Except During Procedures
Another way some practices seek to create a safer space for their staff and patients is to insist that all patients wear masks until they have to remove it for their dental service.
The dental practices that have enforced facial coverings may require the patient to enter the office with a mask, walk to their treatment room or station wearing a mask, and then wear their mask back out as they exit the office. These practices may also add signs to communicate their mask rules. They may have to tell patients verbally as well because some people ignore signage altogether.
Dental practices may have disposable masks available for patients who forget to bring a mask. Although masks have become commonplace for many, not everyone wears them regularly.
6. Stock up on Personal Protective Equipment for Staff
Obviously, dental staff may often remain masked throughout the day. They may also wear personal protective equipment or PPE during treatments.
The PPE may provide an added level of protection from germs others might be carrying. Dental practices generally would provide PPE for staff to wear, as appropriate.
7. Regularly Sanitize Chairs, Counters, Computers and Instruments
Finally, after each patient, dental practices may sanitize the chair and instruments as well as the computer, counter and any other area the patient touches in the treatment room. Some practices may also clean door handles, pens, or anything else that patients touch on their way in and out of the office.
Ensure You’re Reopening with the Proper Coverages
The above are seven examples that various dental practices have implemented. While we all wish life would return to normal, many dental practice are still taking steps to respond to the pandemic.
You should review with legal and medical professionals and CDC and your state Department of Health's guidelines for operating. In addition to the guidelines, you may also want to look into your liability and other insurance coverage. You should review your policy to determine what your insurance would cover in case someone contracts the virus in relation to your office.
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This content is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice.
Treloar & Heisel, Inc. and its divisions do not offer legal or medical advice. Please consult with a professional concerning these topics.