A Dentist And A Hygienist Describe How COVID-19 Disrupts Even Routine Teeth Cleanings
Dental offices across Kansas closed for more than a month to make sure they weren’t using up critical personal protective equipment needed at hospitals.
Now many are beginning to clean molars and bicuspids again.
Brian Grimmett of the Kansas News Service spoke with David Lawlor, a dentist, and Julie Martin, the president of the Kansas Dental Hygienists’ Association, to find out what you can expect when you go and how they’re trying to keep patients and employees safe.
The interviews were performed separately. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Kansas News Service: What are the expectations for getting back up and running?
David Lawlor: We’ve been pushing patients back for six weeks. I think at first people originally we’re trying to do their best to deal with it. If it’s something I can put off for a while I will. But the last couple weeks it’s kind of been like we reached our limit and people got to get in.
We’re having people stay out in their car and we’re taking the temperature of staff and patients. We’re wearing masks, we have face shields, we have gowns, and for our cleanings we’re not using the Cavitron (a machine that uses ultrasonic sound waves to remove plaque from teeth) which is a thing that can aerosolize the virus. We’re doing mostly hand scaling.
KNS: You mentioned the precautions you’re taking, but is there some extra hesitancy from you or your staff, saying, you know I'm working with spit all day?
Lawlor: Yes and no. It’s what we do all the time. We’ve always been at higher risk for getting sicknesses because we’re working in people’s mouths. So, that’s been the main thing, trying to limit the amount of high air flow into the mouth that causes things to get into the air. And you know what? I think it’s all going to work out and be just fine.
KNS: Have you heard from any people that are afraid to go back to work?
Julie Martin: It wouldn’t be normal to not be afraid to go back to work. Because if our vigilance isn’t high, then complacency comes into play.
I mean our procedures, the nature of our job is removing the bacterial load that’s in our oral cavities. And a lot of our equipment does produce those aerosols. That includes your polishing. That involves splatter. Some of your ultrasonic equipment which has, like the water spray and the vibration. That also creates an aerosol. So I mean, pretty much everything that we do can exasperate that potential for spread.
KNS: Financially, what has it been like taking six weeks off?
Martin: This is a tough choice. If we don’t go back to work we can’t pay our bills. So, the economic issue of all of this is devastating. Having to go back to work is great, but is it worth risking your health and the rest of the public’s health that you care for, is it worth it? That’s (a decision) each individual, each oral health care provider needs to make.
KNS: Should you go to the dentist right now?
Martin: You know, if you have an infection and you are in pain, then absolutely go in and see the dentist. Get that taken care of. Because if you do have infection and do have pain it has a tendency to spread into the rest of the system.
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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