Shortage of PPE a growing concern among dentists as offices slowly reopen

TORONTO — Canadian dental offices that closed their doors during the initial shutdown of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic now worry the equipment needed to conduct their business is in short supply as they begin reopening.

In Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, dental offices were allowed to reopen on May 4, while dentists in British Columbia are permitted to resume operations on May 11.

In Atlantic Canada, dental offices in New Brunswick will reopen as part of their third stage, marked by three-to-four weeks without a second wave of COVID-19 cases. Dentists in Prince Edward Island will be allowed to conduct urgent in-office dental care as part of their third stage of reopening, expected on June 12. In Newfoundland and Labrador, dental operations are expected to open on June 8.

It is not immediately clear when regular dental services will resume in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. The territories have not yet released a reopening plan.

Still, as dentists plan for reopening, some are concerned the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they now need is in short supply as doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic require the same equipment.

“The supply, obviously, is low because initially, not every office had it, and those that did — early on in the pandemic — stepped up and donated it to those front lines that did need it,” Dr. Kim Hansen, president of the Ontario Dental Association, told CTV News. “Now that we’re into week eight, the number of dental emergencies is increasing.”

Many of the provinces are mandating N95 masks for all dental staff, which need to be fitted and tested before they can be used. Additionally, dentists will likely need face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe covers, all of which are in short supply.

“We need the basics to be able to provide service safely,” Hansen said.

“Not having access to that PPE is a major concern to be able to treat those patients, to keep them out of the emergency rooms and to keep the public as safe as we can.”

PLENTY OF CHANGES EXPECTED

COVID-19 may also force several changes to the procedures at dentist offices and dental clinics. In many provinces, open rooms may be required to install doors, while patients can expect less use of cleaning tools that spray water or air. Instead, more manual cleaning is to be expected.

“As this all unfolds, there will certainly be new protocols coming out and changes to protocols, so I don’t have concerns and I hope that the rest of Canada has faith in everybody that is working hard to provide this optimal care,” said Leanne Huvennar, president of the Canadian Dental Hygienist Association.

“The dental procedures might take a little bit longer. There may be a few extra steps that you have to take in order to walk in the door and we’re all in this together.”

Huvennar said patients should feel assured that while dental offices were already using infection control measures before COVID-19, cleaning precautions will be intensified.

“I don’t think any office will be opening, unless they have the required PPE,” she said. “Your liability insurance ensures that you’re accountable to your regulatory body, so hopefully the shortage will come to an end here in the near future.”

Hansen agreed that COVID-19 will likely has change how clinics operate.

“The dental environment certainly will be different on the other side of this,” he said. “There’s still a lot of unknown about this virus and obviously the characteristics and activity of it changes. So we are working through the current evidence to identify the best possible evidence to support the protocols that will be put into place.”

Hansen also said these changes will likely come at an extra cost for dentists, who are largely independent business owners.

“Depending on the degree to which those changes are mandated, that will dictate the costs and certainly we’ll have to evaluate that once we see what those guidelines and protocols will be,” he said.

With all these changes in mind, Huvennar said there should be no reason for the public to feel apprehensive about going to the dentist.

“I hope that people will trust us as much as they always have, for the fact that we do have very stringent guidelines to perform the procedures and we’re not going back full force,” she said. “It is definitely being unravelled by the provinces in a stage process.”

“We’re here to provide the best care we can. We always have been and always will be.”

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