The Specialist

Practicing dentistry in a COVID-19-safe environment

According to the WHO’s (World Health Organization) latest statistics on COVID-19, there are over six million confirmed cases and 376,000 confirmed deaths. In The Bahamas up to yesterday, there are 103 confirmed cases and 11 deaths. We celebrate that 62 persons have recovered to date.

The encouraging news in all of this is that the vast majority of persons who contract COVID-19 are likely to recover and resume normal lives. One reason is that dentists and hygienists have consistently risked their personal health in service to improving the dental and medical health of their patients. Oral health has now evolved from just teeth and gums to the powerful recognition that your mouth is the center of vital tissues and functions that are critical to your total health and well-being.

Since May 25, dental practices are once again permitted to treat patients for basic or non-emergency appointments.

Dentists are well-trained to handle COVID-19

Dentists are not strangers in handling highly contagious diseases. Since the outbreak of HIV in the 1980s, the emergence of the Ebola virus and, of course, Hepatitis B, dentists have successfully protected the public, their staff and themselves from highly contagious diseases.

What makes COVID-19 a unique infection for dentists, however, is the fact that it is one of the SARs- (severe acute respiratory syndrome) related viruses that gain access to the body through the oral cavity and mucosal entrances like noses and eyes. Therefore, as dentists, we go to great lengths to protect our patients and our staff.

In 1983 when I started dental school, wearing gloves or masks was not required. Yes, as surprising as that sounds, it is true. However, today, that would be prohibited. At graduation in 1987, the minimum requirement for all dentists was to wear disposable gloves and masks. This was a monumental shift in our infection control protocols and it dramatically increased the confidence of dentists and the public at large.

• Dentists now routinely wear medical grade face masks. Masks are usually worn to protect the patient from cross-contamination.

• Dentists wear eye protection. We often deal with splatter, sprays and small objects that can lodge into eyes.

Best practices since COVID-19: How your dentist protects you from contamination

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things about our daily lives. Your regular visits to the dentist have changed as well.

• Guidance steps as to how dentists ought to function are established by the Bahamas Dental Council; I am sure your dentist will be happy to support you by providing a copy of the guidelines when they become available. Also, many dentists follow the recommendations of the Bahamas Dental Association, WHO/PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Dental Association (ADA).

• Much of the world has been introduced to PPEs (personal protective equipment) since the announcement of COVID-19. PPEs are protective clothing, helmets, goggles, face shields, masks, gloves, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s face or body from injury or infection. Dentists have effectively been wearing PPEs for over 25 years. Also, infection control precautions require all dental staff to wear appropriate protective equipment.

• Additional medical grade equipment is being implemented such as air purifiers, UV (ultraviolet) light in air conditioners and extra-oral suction devices that remove most of the aerosols emitted during some dental procedures.

• It is considered “best practices” that we implement optimal infection control measures on furniture, equipment and instruments to avoid any cross-contamination with other patients.

• We screen patients during the phone call and upon their arrival at the office to determine their health status as it relates to COVID-19 exposure. Several questions are asked and patients must affix their signature.

• The use of hand sanitizer is mandatory upon entering the office. Hand sanitizers are also available throughout the visit. Disinfectants are common place for wiping down items you touch, such as doorknobs, pens, clipboards or furniture.

• The temperatures of all dentists and staff are logged daily. We also take the temperature of each patient/person who desires to enter the office.

• At your appointment, you would be required to wear a face mask prior to entrance in the office.

• When you arrive, you may be asked to wait in your vehicle until you are escorted inside by a staff member. This will reduce the number of persons in the waiting room and lessen further contact with others.

• Once inside the office, normal items in the waiting room would have been removed – like toys, magazines or water dispensers. To allow for social distancing, chairs are six feet apart.

• All treatment rooms and common places are cleaned and disinfected. This includes all surfaces – such as the dental chair, dental light, drawer handles and countertops. Also, some offices cover equipment with protective plastics, which are replaced after each patient.

• Non-disposable items like dental instruments are cleaned and sterilized between patients. It is required that all members of the treatment team sanitize their hands and put on a new pair of gloves prior to seeing the next patient.

• Patients also rinse with a mixture of peroxide/water to reduce any potential of viral load. After your appointment, the staff will thoroughly clean the areas used with disinfectants that are effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, in preparing for the next patient. This helps reduce the risk of illness to others.

Remember, regular dental visits are an essential part of your overall heath. Your dental health should not be neglected. Controlling dental disease is a prerequisite for strengthening your immune system, possibly preventing you from contracting COVID-19.

Call your dentist today and schedule your dental checkup. Your dentist will make sure your visit is as safe as possible.

• Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry, a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified Fastbraces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue. He can be reached at telephone (242) 325-5165 or kmajorcsd@gmail.com.

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