As the coronavirus pandemic swept the U.S., state governments mandated that dental offices open only for emergency procedures. But in the coming weeks, some dental practices may resume regular appointments in individual states where businesses considered “essential” are allowed to re-open.
When dentists do re-open for full business, the patient experience may seem the same in some ways, but in other ways the offices will reflect a “new normal,” says Dr. Kyle Bogan, a general dentist and speaker on workplace culture.
“Dentists are accustomed to following stringent infection control precautions under normal circumstances to lower the risk of transmission of infectious diseases,” Bogan says. “These precautions help keep both patients and dentists safe because it assumes all patients may have an infection, despite the reality that most won’t.
“But now I expect patients will be given temperature checks before an appointment and be asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding coronavirus symptoms. All hygiene and safety standards will be enhanced, and the look of a typical dental office will be different.”
Bogan says those aren’t the only ways a dental visit may be different as a result of COVID-19. Others include:
- More safeguards against blood and saliva. When dentists work on your teeth, they can produce aerosols – droplets or sprays of saliva or blood – in the air. This happens routinely when the dentist uses a drill or when the teeth are scaled or polished. With the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increased risk that the blood or saliva may carry the virus and either directly infect the dental staff, or land on surfaces that the staff or the next patient can touch, Bogan says. “Equipment that reduces patient spray will come into play for patient and employee safety,” he says. “You’ll see preprocedural rinses with a hydrogen peroxide solution, which is effective at killing the virus and reducing viral load in the mouth. There will be more use of rubber dams, a shield that fits over top of the tooth and minimizes aerosols in the area. The high-volume suction used to suction up spray will be used at a higher level. And some dentists may be wearing face shields.”
- An empty “waiting” room. Seeing several people in the waiting room reading magazines may be a thing of the past. “You shouldn’t go into an office until it’s your time to go in,” Bogan says. “There will be limited, if any, occupancy in waiting rooms, Offices will schedule more time between appointments, both to maintain safe space between patients and to have sufficient time to clean up between patients. Parents or other people accompanying patients likely will have to wait outside the office.
- Alternating office hours. “Offices may reduce schedules so fewer patients are there at once, reducing the chance for contact,” Bogan says. “Another option is longer hours on certain nights, in part to accommodate patients who couldn’t be seen during the shutdown – those who had to postpone non-essential appointments such as checkups, cleanings, and orthodontic adjustments.”
“Along with having trust in your dentist’s ability to care for your needs, more than ever a patient has to trust in the cleanliness and safety of the dental environment,” Bogan says. “That’s what will help set an office apart, and anything less will result in a patient migration.”