How the COVID-19 Crisis Has Transformed Dental Visits
This post originally appeared in the September/October 2020 Capital Region Living Magazine. Written by Beth Krueger.
Remember when your dentist’s office would call you before an appointment, reminding you to arrive on a predetermined date and time with your insurance card in hand? On that date, you would’ve taken a seat in the busy waiting room next to other patients. Now because of the COVID-19 crisis, that process is no more. So, what are dental appointments like nowadays?
Luckily, dental professionals who work in offices or clinics are trained in infection-control protocols (such as sterilizing equipment, sanitizing surfaces, and changing disposable items) anyway, so they were a step ahead of the game when COVID hit. Of course, additional procedures have since been put in place to protect both the onsite dental team and its patients. In New York State, for example, dental offices could only perform emergency care at the outset of the pandemic but were then authorized to fully reopen on June 1.
“Dentists have a long history of infection control and take extreme care to assure the safety of patients, doctors, and staff,” says New York State Dental Association Executive Director Mark J. Feldman. “With the experience, knowledge, and equipment gained over the past several months, dentists are well-prepared to safely serve their patients. We encourage you to visit your dentist, as your oral health is vital to your overall health.”
Dr. Sergey Berenshteyn, owner of Adirondack Orthodontics—which has offices in Albany, Latham, Clifton Park, East Greenbush, and Glens Falls—notes that his dental service “has always adhered to all relevant infection control protocols and procedures and required all clinical staff to do the same. Out of an abundance of caution and in keeping the health and safety of our patients and staff first and foremost, we have further expanded those efforts during the pandemic.”
Whereas that call you used to get before your appointment may have asked you if there were any updates to your medical history since your last visit, these days you might be asked questions about your current health, whether you’ve been exposed to (or tested for) the COVID-19 virus or if you’ve taken any recent trips. You also may be reminded to wear a mask while in the office except (obviously) during your dental procedure. The office may even ask you to call when you arrive in the parking lot, so it can limit the number of patients it has onsite at one time.
Now, imagine that you’re in your dental office. It’s entirely possible that you could be asked to use the available hand sanitizer as you enter, have your temperature taken, or review any pre-visit questions. You could also be handed paperwork on a clipboard, along with a sanitized pen, that you either take with you or deposit in a cup after use. Those magazines, toys, and other items you might’ve handled months ago in the waiting room? They’re likely all gone. And there might also be fewer chairs or some space cordoned off between chairs to promote social distancing. The dental team itself could be wearing different masks, face shields, and gowns, depending on what procedure you’re in for. “We are scheduling additional time between appointments to minimize the number of patients in the office at any one time, and we ask that child patients be accompanied by only one parent or guardian,” says Dr. Berenshteyn. “We require all patients and family members coming into the office to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines, and our waiting areas are closed to maintain proper social distancing. Parents and guardians check-in at the reception desk with their child, make any payments due and schedule upcoming appointments, and then return to their cars during treatment. We call them when treatment is complete to return and pick up their child.”
Adirondack Orthodontics also conducts daily temperature and health checks of both administrative and clinical staff and requires all staff to wear protective gear, including masks and gloves, in accordance with local, state, and federal health guidelines. Treatment chairs in the operatory have been set to ensure social distancing. Cleaning is done between appointments, and the office is thoroughly disinfected, as per appropriate guidelines.
So, the next time you make an appointment to go see your dentist, know that the process will be a little bit different, but you’ll get the same great care you always did. And that’s a reason to smile.