Safe working in the dental office during COVID-19

DATE: July 2020
AUTHOR: Natalie Bradley

With the ongoing pandemic, many dental offices have been closed or only holding virtual consultations. Now, with life slowly trying to adjust to a 'new normal' and schools, shops and other businesses beginning to open again, how can you plan to return to practicing dentistry safely?

Communicating with your patients

First of all, keeping up communication with our patient base is vital. We might have patients who are mid-treatment, or who have had a dental emergency during lock down. These patients may, understandably, be anxious to see to their dental needs.

Keep channels of communication open via phone, updates on your practice website or social media. This will be useful not only to help you prioritize certain patients who need to be seen sooner, but will also help with patient expectations of what your practice will be like when you reopen. Videos of a patient journey when they enter the practice can be an excellent way to help demonstrate social distancing measures you have implemented or what personal protective equipment you will now be wearing.

Following procedures and policies

Depending on where you are based, there will be local or national guidance that you should adopt in your own practice for your team's and your patients' safety.

The wealth of policy documents that are in circulation from various sources, and their differences, can be confusing. Make sure to follow the recommendations and regulations of your national and local organizations when implementing protocols and procedures in your practice.

Teamwork

When providing care for your patients in the new world that COVID-19 has sculpted for us, there is likely to be a backlog of patients waiting for their dental treatment. With social distancing measures, limiting the number of people present in your waiting room, and changes to operatory management in place, it is unlikely that we will be operating with the same patient flow as pre-COVID-19. You might have to leave extra time between patients and reduce the number of patients to allow for these changes. Procedural changes may also necessitate more time, for instance, using manual instrumentation instead of an aerosol-generating device.

This could increase demand for appointments, and therefore using skill-mix and collaboration between dentists and every dental team member will be very important. Dental hygienists could explore preventative advice delivered virtually to your patient base, both dentists and dental hygienists could use virtual consultations to help triage patients and deliver teledental care, and dental assistants could screen patients both remotely and when they arrive. These activities will all help to free up available time for face-to-face appointments.

Returning to your dental office will be a transition that will take time for you and your team. It is important not to rush the process, to take this time, and to reassure your team and your patients that you are operating safely.