Until COVID, most dentists and dental staff primarily relied only on regular (non N95) masks (often only level 1) and gloves. Most did not go beyond this basic level of protection and patients did not have an issue with having dental work performed under those conditions. We thought that infection control was well managed and did not feel that further protection was required under typical circumstances. COVID-19 changed all that. Despite the fact that there are still enormous amounts of dispute and disagreements between different colleges, different dental offices, and different dentists, spending three long months at home during COVID closures has shifted what I believe, what I value, and how I practice dentistry.
Although we are being told that we can “re-use” masks, and “don’t need gowns”, and the lack of availability and shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has forced many dental offices to re-use N95 masks or revert back to the old ways of ‘gloves and regular masks’ only, for me it comes down to something else altogether. And here is my own take, my own belief, and the resultant changes to my dental office:
If In Doubt Go Full Out
Depending on what you read or who you talk to, COVID ranges from a ‘minor’ illness to a massive pandemic that can result in extreme sickness or death. Now, whether you are on the one extreme of this spectrum of opinions and knowledge or the other, the bottom line comes down to one simple fact: if in doubt, go full out. What I mean by this is that if there is even a slight chance of spread or contamination, then I don’t want to gamble with my patients, my staff, or my own family. When I come home at night after being at my dental office all day, I want to be able to hug my daughter without worrying that I might be bringing home a pathogen or virus. And when I see my parents for dinner or share a glass of wine with my dad, I do not want to question if I am putting them at risk for catching this virus or anything else.
What We Are Doing
With that thought in mind, our office has implemented full PPE for all aerosol-generating procedures, despite the fact that the governing body lowered the guidelines and does not require it. That means that all staff providing aerosol-producing dentistry will be wearing N95 mask (used ONLY once and discarded after each patient), eye protection or full face shield, disposable gown (discarded after each patient), Level 3 masks when moving around the office at all times, physical distancing, disposable items, air purification system, and all treatment rooms go through a double disinfection protocol between each patient. In addition, we have installed doors on all treatment rooms, and all handles, light switches, knobs, and surfaces are disinfected after each patient and multiple times throughout the day. We are also providing blankets (disinfected, laundered, and sealed) for your comfort if you feel cold in our office, as the temperature is lowered in order for our staff to be comfortable while in full PPE including N95 masks.
These changes are just a small part of everything I have been working on to deliver safety and quality to our patients and team. Stay tuned to our blog to learn more about these changes in upcoming blogs.