Dental offices across the state have started to reopen for non-emergency procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wisconsin’s dentists are rising to even higher levels of caution – with guidance from the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others – to protect their patients, dental teams and communities.
“Dentistry has always been a leader when it comes to patient safety and infection control, with standard precautions central to the way we practice,” said Wisconsin Dental Association President-Elect Dr. Paula Crum, a periodontist in Green Bay. “In recent months, dentists have been researching and acquiring additional personal protective equipment (PPE), reviewing state and federal guidance and implementing new office policies, all to make sure patients receive the best and safest care. By conducting health screenings, using proper PPE and, most importantly, exercising our professional judgment, dentists are well-equipped to safely care for patients at this time.
Just as day-to-day life has changed during the health emergency, scheduling and attending a dental appointment will likely be a bit different, too. Protocols between each dental office will vary, but you may notice these changes at your next appointment.
· More detailed screening. Most dental offices will ask about symptoms you or anyone in your household may have experienced recently. These questions may be asked over the phone prior to a visit, and repeated upon arrival to assess your most current health status. Additionally, your temperature may be taken using a no-contact digital thermometer. Many offices are not only practicing these precautions with patients, but also among dentists and staff when they arrive for work each day.
· Limited congregation. Many offices are adjusting schedules to space appointments throughout the day, both to limit the number of people in the office and to allow extra time for cleaning between patients. To avoid crowds in common spaces, you may be asked to notify staff of your arrival before entering the building. Some offices may ask patients to wait in their vehicle before their appointment; others may have rearranged waiting rooms to maintain social distancing. Many are also asking that patients, aside from children, come to appointments alone to limit the number of people in the office.
· Added PPE. The most obvious differences you see may be in the form of new protective equipment on staff and in the office. It won’t be uncommon to find newly installed plexiglass barriers surrounding reception desk areas, as well as front office staff wearing masks at all times. Patients may be asked to wear masks when not undergoing treatment. Your dentist, hygienist and other members of the dental team will likely be utilizing different PPE than you’re used to, including updated gowns, caps, masks and face shields. No different from before, gloves and non-reusable masks are disposed of and replaced before each new patient.
· Increased sanitization. Infection control measures have always been at the forefront of importance in the dental setting. Now, while maintaining the same high sanitary standards already in place, you may notice even more steps being taken. These could include hand sanitizer being made available for you to use before and after your appointment, staff wiping down objects you touch like pens or furniture or items like magazines and toys absent from waiting rooms. In some cases within the office, you could find things covered in a disposable, single-use cover, such as on keyboards or dental equipment. Just like some PPE, these are discarded and replaced after seeing a patient.
Keeping you safe and healthy are your dentist’s highest priorities. If you have any concerns about the precautions your dental office is taking, don’t hesitate to call the office and ask. Your oral health plays a substantial role in your overall wellness, and is important to maintain, no matter the circumstance.
For more information about your oral health during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the American Dental Association’s public awareness website at www.MouthHealthy.org.
Watch the WDA public service announcement, here.