Dental hygienists concerned about offices reopening

Credit: 123RF
Credit: 123RF(WEAU)
Published: May. 15, 2020 at 5:36 PM CDT
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Social distancing is promoted as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 but at a dental office, that's difficult to do.

Dental offices in Wisconsin had been restricted to emergency care only, but now some offices are beginning to schedule preventative care appointments.

One Eau Claire dental hygienist who asked to stay anonymous to protect her job says she fears it is to soon to see patients for routine visits.

"There is no way to be able to safely protect our patients right now or the staff," the hygienist says. "The staff is going home to their families and they are scared to go home and hug their loved ones. It is a nightmare, it is a mess."

The hygienist says she fears not only her own safety, but the safety of patients.

"There is no way to know if we are treating patients that are infected," she says.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is recommending dental offices resume routine care only if they have proper PPE, screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms before treatment and follow the guidance handed down by the CDC, OSHA and the American Dental Association.

"I feel confident that dental care can be delivered safely but it requires the offices to be prepared," says Dr. Patrick Tepe of Associated Dentists in Verona. "Our main concern now is getting an adequate supply of quality PPE."

Tepe, also a former president of the Wisconsin Dental Association says he recommends dental workers who are concerned about their office conditions to talk with their doctors and ask them about their safety plans.

"There is an inherent risk in what we do," Tepe says. "We need to train and prepare our employees to be comfortable in their protocol."

With the threat of COVID-19, many people may be left wondering whether they should make an appointment to see their dentists.

Tepe recommends people who are at high risk for the virus hold off on going to the dentist and maintain good oral health at home. However, in the case of a dental emergency, he says it is important not to delay care.

For healthy people, Tepe says seeing the dentist depends on a person's own comfort level. He recommends patients ask their dentists what they are doing to maintain safety if they are concerned.

The dental hygienist who spoke with WEAU says before offices return to routine appointments, she would like to see her office have proper PPE and strict protocol in place.

She says her office has implemented as much social distancing protocol as possible like having patients wait in their cars, but she worries it is still too early to reopen.

"Once you come in, with all the aerosols that are produced, you are exposed to whatever patients that were in that office that day," she says.

For more details on DHS' recommendations to dental offices,

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