Dentistry and Covid
Practicing safety measures long before the pandemic
In an age where Covid-19 and pandemic have become household words, some jobs might immediately send up red flags when you consider the chances of infection. Fields like dentistry and orthodontia come to mind.
318 Forum talked to local orthodontists about working amid daily reports of infection rates and death tolls. As it turns out, the consensus appears to be that there are probably more dangerous professions. The reason is physicians who work in and around the mouth have been aware of the potential of infection and spreading of germs for years. That awareness translated into some practices and precautions that ironically put many dental offices in a pretty good place when the pandemic struck in March of 2020. But it was not all smooth sailing.
Dr. Sanders Graf said despite being cautious about infection, they were just as surprised by the severity of the Covid threat. “We’ve always worn eye protection. We’ve always worn masks, certainly when we’re working on patients. We use suction when we are creating aerosols. We already took precautions. We always have; dentists always have. We went from thinking this is no big deal to two days later realizing this is a big deal. We got shut down for seven weeks.”
Eric Lang is a nurse practitioner and manages his wife’s orthodontist office. They, too, had been practicing good cleaning and protection protocols but realized this disease was nothing to take for granted. “I actually convinced my wife [Dr. Morgan Lang] a couple of days before they shut us down that we needed to shut down and see how things played out.” Lang Orthodontists was shut down for seven weeks as well.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an orthodontist’s office,” explained Dr. Graf, “but typically we’re an ‘open bay.’ So we have six chairs out there that are spaced anywhere from six to eight feet apart. You’re constantly rotating through. That’s a concern being that close. So we actually purchased mobile barriers to go between each chair. So, now, you’re in your own isolated bubble where you’re in any of the seats in the office.”
The Langs didn’t have to put up barriers; their chairs were already far enough apart. “Really, we’ve always practiced as though there was something out there,” Eric Lang said. “Being raised in the sciences, my wife and I have always prepared as though the patient we’re serving has an open wound. (They) might have a cough that we don’t know about. So, we’ve always protected ourselves.”
Both Graf and Lang said this pandemic has proven to be a learning experience and proved something that many had suspected. “General dentists and orthodontists have not been catching the flu more than the general population over the last hundred years,” according to studies Graf has read. “Because they have been taking precautions. Our precautions already worked against infectious diseases.”
“When Covid hit, we did take some additional precautions,” Lang admitted.
“Really, it was just an opportunity for us to rethink how we present ourselves to our patients. We did webinars with our team during the course of the seven or eight weeks that we were closed. We kept our team updated on the status of what was going on. My wife listened to a number of webinars from some of the most intelligent people in the nation with regards to Covid and how different nations were handling it.”
Graf said staff members also needed some additional training and assurances. “We were as scared as everyone else about what was happening and what was going on. I wanted to make sure that my staff was OK. They were obviously very nervous about things.
“I’ve always been satisfied that we went above and beyond as far as following infection control protocols in my office. It’s always good to have a wake-up call, and that’s what this was for us,” Graf said.
Lang added, “We had a lot of these strategies in place ahead of time because my wife was really forward-thinking on a lot of this. We don’t want to appear like we had it figured out before everybody else. We didn’t. There definitely was a scramble just adopting the OSHA guidelines and listening to what the many thought leaders had to say about it. We just tried to follow every guideline that we could, and with the guidelines we had in place, I think, it’s been a nice transition.”