A regular check up with your family dentist now begins outside the office door.
That’s where patients will be met by a member of the staff ready to take your temperature before you are escorted into a waiting room likely rearranged to ensure sufficient social distancing can be maintained.
Gone are the children’s play areas, magazine racks and water coolers.
New are infrared touchless thermometers, UV filtration systems and lights to kill airborne pathogens, KN95 masks, face shields, goggles and disposable overlays for labcoats for dentists and hygienists and PPE for all staff.
The changes are being rolled out following the state’s announcement that elective and non-urgent dental procedures could be resumed on May 20.
Greenville dentist Garrett B. Lyons, DDS, who has practiced in Montchanin for 21 years, saw his first hygiene patients today since March 13th. He says his patients were “raring at the bit to get in here.”
While his practice has adopted new COVID-related safety protocols and made investments in air filtration technologies, many of the measures were already in place.
Now his hygienists wear three layers of masks — an KN95 mask with a blue “Level 3” mask over that plus a face shield, protecting practitioners and patients from potential cross contamination.
“We’ve been preparing for this for the last two months. I don’t think there’s a more sterile environment in the country — I mean not just my office, but all of dentistry,” said Lyons.
But others have required new investment and significant time and training to ensure compliance with new post-Covid national guidance from the American Dental Association, all involving expense for dental practices.
“We’ve always had Level 2 and Level 3 masks, face shields, goggles, gowns, gloves — all those things have always been been protocol in a dental office. But the CDC has changed their approach to things dramatically in the two and a half months that we’ve been out of our offices,” said Lyons.
All of his team members are now dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) “for our collective well being.”
Patients of Dr. Lyons’ are now asked to use a hand sanitizer before being taken to the exam room, and they are provided with a hydrogen peroxide oral rinse or a 1-minute Listerine rinse at the start of their appointment.
His office has implemented UV sterile wands to ensure all surfaces in any treatment room are treated. That also goes for masks, keyboards, or anything else in between patients.
Catching up on emails or sending a quick text while you are in the exam chair is something you’ll have to wait to do now until after your appointment. The hygienists ask that you please not touch your phone again after using the hand sanitizer.
Patients spend a lot of time looking up at the ceiling on any dental visit. That happens to be exactly the spot where Lyons made one other investment in air filtration technology.
“In the ceiling we put in a blue ray UV coil air filtration that takes care of the air coming in and out of the ducts. So a lot of the larger molecules are either killed, destroyed, filtered by the use of UV light. And that seems to be one of the significant deterrents to the virus — fresh air and UV lighting,” he said.
Dr. Lyons’ office has also added individual air purifiers in each suite.
The meticulous focus on safety begins with screening of patients actually on a call prior to the appointment, when anyone with COVID-19 or who has been in close contact with an infected person is informed they cannot be seen. Anyone with COVID or other related symptoms are asked to reschedule.
And if a patient with COVID has a dental emergency, they would to be referred to the hospital.
The state’s post-Covid requirements for healthcare facilities and providers gives them the ability to “exercise their independent professional judgment in determining what procedures are appropriate to perform, which appointments should occur, and which patients to see in light of widespread COVID-19 community transmission.”
The state also requires dentists and others to have “at least two week’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and as appropriate, for patients.”
Lyons says initially, “the big onslaught” was the purchasing of the KN95 masks, which are fitted and have a good seal around the mouth but were tough to find. Dr. Lyons’ office managed to purchase 1,000 KN95 masks to make certain they had plenty for existing clients and the two weeks extra supply.
Following your visit to the dentist, they will wipe down the room in germicidal products that Dr. Lyons says should kill any potential virus in minutes.
And now the patient — not the hygienist — will take the “router” to the front desk. That’s the slip of paper with the information about your visit that you present to the bookkeeper. This way, the hygienist doesn’t potentially transport anything on his or her gown or gloves up to the waiting area.
“I’m confident with the way we’re practicing for the health of our staff and patients. We’ve upped our game even more, but we were always there,” said Lyons.