It started with reports on the news. A new disease was emerging and spreading baffling doctors, scientists and public officials. “It’s not going to come here or affect me.” “It’s only happening over there or to ‘those’ people.” But within a short period of time, the new disease was at everyone’s doorstep.
People suddenly began to rethink their everyday routines. Is it ok to shake hands? Or hug and kiss someone? Will I get it just being close to someone with it? People were dying alone in hospitals as panic spread throughout the nation.
Healthcare providers were at a loss on how to continue safely caring for their patients as it was not completely understood how the disease was spread, what treatments were available or if they were even effective. There was talk of a vaccine but no way to project how long it would take to develop. Dentists, working closely with patients and routinely exposed to blood and saliva, were on the frontlines of dealing with this new disease along with medical colleagues. As fear approached a fever pitch, people instinctively canceled their appointments and dentists considered how best to protect their patients, employees and themselves. One dentist was exposed, and a blood test revealed a positive result. He decided to sell his practice and sometime later was told the test was incorrect and he was actually negative. He later recalled to a colleague that even though his practice sale was based on a false premise, he could not go back to dentistry and live with what he felt was constant fear.
The disease I’m describing is not Covid-19. In fact, these events transpired almost 40 years ago during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was a frightening time and though I was too young to remember it firsthand, I’ve interviewed colleagues who practiced through it. Incredible to remember that prior to the AIDS epidemic, it was common for dentists to work without gloves, masks, or other protective equipment while treating patients. I remember as a grade schooler my own dentist examining my mouth with his bare hands and I didn’t think twice about it. Today I couldn’t fathom an ungloved hand touching the inside of my mouth.
Within a very short period, dentistry adapted. Dentists took strides and led the effort to protect patients and their teams by adopting new standards of PPE (personal protective equipment) and best practices to prevent cross contamination. Dental offices began utilizing steam autoclave sterilizers, instrument packaging, single use products and began wearing lab coats, scrubs, face masks, gloves and used medical grade disinfectants to sanitize the treatment rooms between patients. It’s no wonder that over 17 years of practice, my staff and I rarely get sick despite being exposing ourselves to thousands of patients and their bodily fluids!
In the Covid-19 era, I’m confident our practices will evolve again, and we will adapt new practices and protections for ourselves and our patients. We will build upon our existing protocols and when we reopen, patients will notice changes.
From waiting in your car until your room is ready to online paperwork completed digitally, the process will be streamlined for efficiency and maximum safety. As you’re greeted, a touchless temperature will be taken, and you will be escorted to your room. You’ll notice plexiglass in the reception, hourly sanitation of common touch points, HEPA air-filtration units and dedicated external oral suction units designed to augment and control aerosols during your treatment. Our clinical team will be donned with disposable single use gowns, gloves, headcovers and face shields. Learn more about our safety protocols here.
Just as dentists adapted during the early 1980’s to continue treating our patients safely, I am confident we will adapt now to emerge stronger, safer and even more effective to deliver the personalized care our patients have come to expect.