During the recent pandemic, dental offices across the country closed for routine care, such as cleanings as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) categorized some dental procedures as "very high risk" for coronavirus transmission.
Now that dental practices are reopening their doors, some processes and procedures are changing to keep everyone safe. Dental assistants and hygienists will need to adapt to the new working environment as well as the guidelines put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Preparing for Patients
Before an appointment, dental offices are calling patients to prescreen them for symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection and, once the patient is at the dental office, they will be asked the same questions. Anyone with signs of an active infection will not be treated.
Waiting rooms are changing, too. Chairs are being placed six feet apart to accommodate social distancing, and appointment times are being staggered to limit the number of patients in the waiting room at any given time. In some cases, patients are asked to wait in their cars and then are escorted into the office at their appointment time.
Personal Protective Equipment
While dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists routinely wear surgical masks, goggles, and gloves when they perform procedures, COVID-19 requires that even more personal protective equipment (PPE) is used. Surgical masks have been replaced with N-95 respirators and patients and employees are asked to wear masks at all times unless they are receiving treatment.
We now know that the coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, which become airborne when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks. According to the CDC, many dental procedures use ultrasonic instruments that can distribute the virus through the air by creating a spray of water, saliva, and other debris.
These droplets become aerosolized and can stay in the air for more extended periods. As a result, dentists are limiting the use of some dental tools, such as ultrasonic drills. During cleanings, hygienists will often use hand tools instead of the ultrasonic scalers that can remove plaque more quickly.
Cleaning the Environment
The CDC recommends that dental offices focus on proper ventilation systems, such as opening windows when possible and using portable HEPA air filters to reduce the particle count in the air.
Cleaning and sterilization procedures for treatment rooms are changing, too. The CDC recommends that dental staff wait 15 minutes after a patient leaves before using standard disinfectants to clean all surfaces so that any droplets that may still be in the air will fall to surfaces where they can be safely removed.
COVID-19 is creating new normal in all aspects of our lives and that includes the dentist’s office. Dental assistants and hygienists are playing an essential role in keeping patients healthy and safe. What has not changed is that these professionals are continuing to care for patients, providing essential services and ensuring they receive proper oral care. If you are interested in joining the field of dentistry as a dental hygienist or dental assistant, schedule a tour at one of our campuses, visit the Dental page on the Fortis website.