Dalhousie University’s dean of dentistry expects dental clinics and offices to be able to reopen sometime next week for urgent and emergency cases, with routine dental care in Nova Scotia resuming several weeks after that.
A public health order shut down dental offices in the province in March — other than eight sites for emergency care — to try to help clamp down on the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the limited services, Dr. Ben Davis, an oral surgeon in Halifax and Dalhousie’s dentistry dean, said the last 10 weeks have been the busiest of his career.
“It really has been such a different reality in terms of what we can and can’t do and all the different work that’s having to be undertaken to get us back up and running again,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
In an email, Dr. Martin Gillis, registrar of the Provincial Dental Board of Nova Scotia, said the reopening plan submitted to public health includes “strict screening protocols for patients and dental office personnel to ensure they do not have COVID symptoms and risk factors.”
Gillis said there would also be enhanced infection controls and additional personal protective equipment requirements to keep patients and the people who work in dental offices safe.
Challenges for patients and dental staff
Although dental staff who are able to work remain busy, Davis said it’s still a fraction of the cases they would normally see and focuses only on those patients with trauma, pain, infection or bleeding.
“This is a pretty select few,” he said.
Davis said the approach isn’t sustainable for several reasons.
First, the lack of non-emergent oral health care means people who need things such as tooth replacements or regular checkups, which can help spot conditions such as oral cancers, are not happening. That’s meant some patients are having to make due with prescriptions for antibiotics or analgesics, an approach dentists prefer not to use.
Then there are dentists facing financial concerns.
Offices might be closed, but people who own practices still have rent payments, salaries and other overhead to consider.
“I do think that a lot of dentists out there are very anxious because they’ve been losing money, not able to make any money, yet, at the same time, they’re being viewed as not being the right fit for some of these government programs that have been supporting people in similar situations who are small business owners as well,” Davis said.
Finding ways to accommodate students
In his role of dean, Davis is also focused on people who will eventually work in the profession.
Although the public health regulations have affected students, Davis said most people scheduled to graduate were able to still do so last week, helped by online teaching and virtual oral exams.
Although the simulation lab and clinical learning was suspended for early-year students, Davis said the nature of the program at Dalhousie should allow everyone to catch up.
The bigger concern is with students preparing to enter their final year of dental or dental hygiene training, particularly with the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 coming later this year.
“They’ve already missed about 10 weeks of clinic,” Davis said.
That’s why when clinics and offices are able to reopen, students will be back to work right away and throughout the summer in an effort to catch up on required patient interactions.
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