Nancy Guenther Chapman/ ctnewsjunkie file photo
A patient getting treated in 2013 at the Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic in Bridgeport (Nancy Guenther Chapman/ ctnewsjunkie file photo)

Connecticut dental offices never formally closed, but now that dentists are starting to look beyond emergency procedures, some are raising safety concerns.

COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air. A patient in a dentist’s office must remove their face mask and someone who is asymptomatic has the potential to unknowingly expose staff to the virus. There is no system to test every patient before coming in for a cleaning or other elective procedure, which is concerning some dental hygienists.

Marie Paulis, a dental hygienist and past president of the American Dental Hygiene Association of Connecticut, said the decision to fully reopen will be up to each private dental office.

Some, like Dental Associates in Farmington, are still canceling appointments.

“We won’t be making appointments for at least a few weeks except for emergencies,” an office manager said Tuesday.

When they do reopen, Dental Associates will not have all staff in the office at the same time, and different teams will work on different days. Conversations are still ongoing with the hygienists to discuss which procedures will be performed. “We have taken every single precaution,” the office manager said.

Paulis said some dental offices are planning to reopen and some hygienists are happy to get back to work because they know they will be doing it with the proper personal protective gear.

She said there are others who are concerned about a lack of PPE and the other safety measures the office might employ.

“We’ve received a lot of feedback from hygienists in particular since Friday with concerns about returning to work,” David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said Tuesday.

That’s why they are assembling a stakeholder group under the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee to look at the issue. The group is looking “to make a determination—what guidelines should be in place if we’re going to start this now, should it be started later?,” Lehman said.

If enough people don’t feel comfortable, the state could at some point restrict cleanings and other non-urgent care, Lehman said.

Paulis said all dental practices are following federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

“I’m pleased the state is working closely with us and I believe that they are hearing us and they’re understanding the risk,” Paulis said. “We don’t want to dictate what people are doing, but we want to make sure every hygienist feels comfortable in what they are choosing to do.”

The Connecticut State Dental Association said dental offices should be following the American Dental Association’s “Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit.”

“Oral health is important to overall health, and dental offices must prepare themselves and their teams to ensure the health and safety of everyone who works in or visits a dental office,” said Dr. Tam Le, CSDA President.

The CSDA has had productive conversations with the hygienists’ association and will participate in the new Reopen Connecticut Dental Subgroup. “We look forward to working with our hygiene partners and other dental professionals on the Reopen CT Dental Subgroup, to determine the best practices to implement for dental offices to resume elective procedures as safely as possible,” Dr. Le said.

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said at Tuesday’s press briefing that the stakeholder group would be meeting tomorrow and has plenty of representation from dental hygienists among its members.