You would think that dental practices would be suffering during a pandemic that requires people to wear masks and social distance, but many dentists are busier than ever.
Dr. Tamara Stein is one of those dentists “fixing broken teeth all day long” and “doing more root canals.”
“We are being trampled with patients,” Stein said. “I’ve had to hire someone full-time to take care of [my kids’] homeschooling because I physically cannot get out of the office. There’s too many patients that need to be seen.”
Stein and her father — they’re West Hartford’s only father-daughter dental team — closed their practice in March to all but emergency procedures. The duo reopened their office in June to a number of new changes and safety protocols: patients now sit in their cars rather than in the waiting room, answer pre-screening questions before coming in and stop by the front desk to check out when they leave.
“We have everything timed like Disneyland. You wait in the line, you get on the ride, you get into the gift shop — everything is timed,” Stein explained.
Additionally, the staff are all in N-95 masks, laundry is done onsite so no one wears their scrubs outside of the office and surgical-grade air purifiers are always running. Stein said her assisting staff was “psycho” about sanitation even before COVID-19 and that their “obsessive-compulsive” cleaning efforts now have really paid off during the pandemic.
“I think patients of our practice trust us and know that we are careful and doing everything we possibly can to make this a safe environment for the staff and the patients,” Stein said.
Many of the COVID-19 safety guidelines Stein and other dental offices are following, like the pre-screenings and the meticulous timing, come from the American Dental Association, as well as the Connecticut State Dental Association, Connecticut’s Dental Hygiene Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization also released interim guidance stating that non-emergency dental care can proceed with precautions, except for in intense, uncontrolled community transmission scenarios.
CSDA President Dr. Tam Le said that the CSDA, DHA-Connecticut, the Department of Public Health and other officials worked together on a task force to create the state’s safe dental practices, such as requiring personal protective equipment like face shields and treating everyone as if they are COVID-positive.
“It wasn’t easy,” Le said. “But because of that universal precaution we have in the dental setting, we’re very familiar with how to practice in this new age.”
Le added that dental offices having remained open for emergencies at the height of the pandemic was actually standard and was beneficial in streamlining patients away from the hospital to prevent an overload.
“We were never actually closed, at the request of [Governor Ned Lamont] … so we could keep these patients out of the emergency room,” Le said.
Le is a solo dental practitioner himself. His office has adjusted to COVID-19 per ADA and state guidelines, too, including pre-screening patients, screening staff, charting appointments and eliminating the waiting room.
“If [the patients] are safe, then I know our team members will be safe as well,” Le said. “When they have their masks off, we do have our PPEs on to protect us and also to protect them from us.”
Dr. Steve Hall, a dentist from Farmington and the CSDA’s treasurer, said that his office has gone back to doing certain procedures by hand so that patients aren’t exposed to machines used by others. Moreover, services like dental exams are no longer being done in person.
Hall said he feels safe doing “just about anything” with his PPE on and with the state’s safe dental practices in place, and that patients can feel comfortable coming in. Patients should come in, Hall stressed, even if their mask covers up their smiles.
“Just the routine of keeping your teeth clean, keeping the inflammation in your teeth and mouth down, really keeps your overall health better,” Hall said. “The better the health of your teeth are, the better the health of your body is.”
Le share that sentiment, saying that patients should keep in mind that keeping their teeth healthy can preempt more serious health risks later down the road.
“We have found after this break that there have been a tremendous amount of breakdown and additional dental diseases. We want the public to remember that dental health is a part of overall health,” Le said.