As a dental student 50 years ago, there was zero Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). There were no gloves, masks or gowns. The dental clinic where we trained was draconian; 100 old-time chairs in a huge, dank room. One would have been laughed out of the clinic for even suggesting gloves or masks.
For more than 30 years, the dental profession has been the expert in protecting the patient, dental team and dentist from infectious diseases. We gained that status during the AIDs epidemic in the early 80s, 30 years ago. When is the last time you saw dentists and team without proper PPE even before COVID-19?
Even though I am a dentist of 48 years and have been breathing other people’s germ all those years, I am like the other 7.594 billion people on this Earth; I have no clue what the future holds. As for protection from COVID-19, I would like to be able to say that I can use my vast experience and common sense to protect myself, my family, patients and team members. Since COVID-19 is novel, experience and common sense are of little importance; but maybe not.
As we have learned over the past months, every study, every idea has a counter study and counter idea. No one in-the-know knows. So maybe my experience and common sense are the best guides of what to do. My experience and common sense may be as good as anyone else’s.
When the nation shut down, dentistry was classified as non-essential except for emergencies. Most dentists I know closed the office but had a phone number for emergency patients. Some dentists I know stayed open to serve the emergency patient. The classification of an emergency was at the discrimination of the dentist. Those that did stay open and those who only saw emergency patients did not become hot spots for the virus.
Gov. Greg Abbott opened dentistry back up the first of May but in a limited way. No one knew what was going to happen. My common sense was to let other dentists be the test pilots for a few months to see if dentistry was like weddings, nursing homes, etc. I waited three months before opening. Dentistry is and has not in any fashion or form been a hot spot. If dental offices were a hot spot, it would be all over the news. Typical of today’s Medusa of leadership and no one in charge, the World Health Organization suggested people not go to the dentist. Yes, these are confusing times with no one taking real responsibility.
Our profession gets its guidelines from the CDC, ADA, and the Texas Dental Association. One week prior to this article, Gov. Abbott, the TDA and the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners gave the green light to Texas dentists to use their own judgment as to patient flow, PPE, etc. Essentially, we have been given permission to go back to normal but still more cautious.
It appears the virus has a hard time spreading outdoors where the air is circulating. For me and my team, it makes common sense that ventilation is of utmost importance to stop the spread within the office. Since we cannot do dental procedures outdoors, we decided on the next best thing; bring strong, constant ventilation to the area between the patient, team member and dentist.
Along with the chairside suction dentists have always used, we have added huge vacuum systems with trunk extensions that vacuum the space between patient, assistant and dentist. My common sense and experiences tell me most of the virus is vacuumed out before they infect. But, we are still in uncharted waters.
Even though I am 75, my common sense tells me there is a difference in being old and being elderly. Yes, I could die tomorrow but today I am perfectly fit, and I know deep down that, with time, the future is bright.
Do yourself a favor and call your dentist and keep those teeth clean and healthy and use common sense when you go.