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How newly reopened dental offices adjust to distancing procedures

Posted at 7:33 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 20:01:43-04

INDIANAPOLIS – Dental offices were given the green light to open back up to patients this week. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the executive order that allows them to reopen for routine care, but only if they have enough personal protective equipment to stay safe.

“I have to admit coming into the office the first time in four-and-one-half weeks was a little fear provoking,” said Dr. Kathryn Stuart of Advanced Endodocare.

She said most dentists she knows shut down their practices last month, but a few remained open. Her office only saw emergency patients.

But the consequences were felt.

“In 35 years of practicing endodontics and in the 37 years of dentistry, I never had to layoff anyone,” she said. “I had to lay off nine staff.”

Perhaps even more worrisome now, there are patients who Stuart believes aren’t being cared for right now.

“Because we put them all on the back burner to care for COVID-19 patients,” Stuart said. “So there's therefore a lot of people losing teeth right now, cracking teeth, that have not been seen for five or six weeks."

Mike Palombi had his first surgery to fill a root canal before businesses were forced to close, then all of his other appointments kept getting pushed back.

“I couldn't eat on the left side of my face mostly,” Palombi said.

Now that Stuart’s doors are open, she said she’s changed almost everything about their practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 , including ordering air filters with UV lighting to kill bacteria.

Now that Stuart’s doors are open, she said she’s changed almost everything about their practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 , including ordering air filters with UV lighting to kill bacteria.

“I've also ordered over-the-patient suction unit that will actually mitigate the aerosol in the treatment rooms,” she said.

The staff now wears face shields, N-95 respirator masks, surgical gowns outside of surgery and surgical caps covering their hair. She's even providing tennis shoes for her employees and doing laundry in house so they don't bring anything home to their families.

Stuart is also trying to keep patients socially distanced. When patients arrive, they are to call and wait in their cars until they're ready. Once they're inside, there's no magazines, no coffee offered, or toys for kids to play with.

"We are trying our best to put their safety first and foremost,” Stuart said. “I care about my patients. I care about my staff. If I didn't feel like I could safely treat them I would not be treating patients at all.”

The Indiana Dental Hygienists Association released a statement, saying dental facilities should postpone elective procedures, surgeries and non-urgent dental visits for the time being.