Forced to close up shop due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some local dentists offices are moving towards reopening.
After seeing only emergency patients for weeks, Fisher Family Dental, at 308 N. Main St. in DeForest, is looking to restart its practice after Memorial Day, while taking all necessary precautions.
“There are so many factors that have gone into the decision on when to reopen our doors,” said Fisher. “We have really taken it to heart to make the best decisions possible that will protect our patients, our staff and community.”
Fisher Family Dental has been temporarily shuttered since March 18.
“The American Dental Association, along with the Wisconsin Dental Association, recommended all dental offices nationwide limit their treatment to emergency care back in March of this year,” said Fisher. “All dental offices were asked to triage patients and provide limited treatment of emergency care to prevent patients in need from seeking treatment in medical emergency rooms.”
Windsor Family Dental closed around the same time. For the last eight weeks, the practice has been handling only emergencies, such as broken teeth and toothaches. Dr. Bill Endicott said Windsor Family Dental is also planning to ramp back up to a more normal schedule after Memorial Day.
Some of the front-end practices already in place to protect the safety of patients and staff will continue, said Endicott.
“When patients arrive, we ask that they stay in their cars,” said Endicott. “We take their temperatures and ask them some serious questions. If they’re good, we let them come in.”
The procedure is designed to keep the number of people in the waiting room at a bare minimum. When patients are allowed in, they are asked to wear a mask. There is plenty of hand sanitizer available, and touching is limited. Staff wear face shields and N95 masks while performing work.
Fisher Family Dental has added more safety measures, as well.
“We have rewritten many of our policies and protocols for seeing patients in the office,” said Fisher. “We have a very thorough screening process both on the phone with our patients and once again at our patient’s arrival at the office. We have new personal protective equipment (PPE), some examples include KN95 masks, face shields, gowns, and caps. We have installed protective safety barriers and implemented as many contactless interactions as possible. We have also rewritten portions of our employee handbook to ensure that our employees are accountable for implementing our new safety measures to ensure the safety of our patients, themselves and truly our community as a whole.”
Although closed since March 13, Dr. Charles Lau said Wisconsin Dental Wellness, 821 S. Main St., in DeForest, has been seeing a few emergency cases. The practice has implemented similar measures.
“The health and safety for everyone are a priority for us,” said Lau. “We are adhering highest standards of care and safety sterilization and PPEs according the CDC guidelines and ADA guidelines. We created a checklist of guidelines and recommendations to implement to ensure the safety at each stage of patient visit.”
Lau said the “living room” at Wisconsin Dental Wellness has been shut off, as part of its social distancing measures. Extensive infection control with UV and HEPA air purification system has been employed throughout the office, along with additional aerosol management systems in treatment areas.
“Our goal is to limit germs coming into our office starting from you first call our office,” said Lau. “
Screening for potential carriers before patients arrive at the Wisconsin Dental Wellness office is one way to do that. Virtual consultations and limiting the time of office visits is another. Like other practices, Wisconsin Dental Wellness now does curbside check-in, or patients can check in via smart phones with the practice’s app.
Lau said the app has also made scheduling easier on patients and the practice.
DeForest Dental is located at 210 N. Main Street, Suite 103, in DeForest. Dr. Courtney Mann listed many challenges associated with reopening. Safety is the highest priority. Part of that is increasing air filtration.
“The only factor in our consideration to reopen is the ability to meet every item set by the American Dental Association and Wisconsin Dental Association guidelines,” said Mann. “The greatest challenge to reopening will likely be hesitation by patients to visit the dentist. It is okay to feel that way. If you are ready to visit the dentist, we are practicing safely and taking all precautions. If you are not quite ready yet, that is okay, too, and we will be here and ready when you are.”
Mann said she has a moral and professional obligation to see emergency patients. Those having oral pain and swelling should contact their dentist to discuss symptoms and treatment, said Mann.
“This can be done either in person or on the phone depending on individual comfort,” said Mann.
In reopening, Fisher Family Dental plans on modifying its schedule. The waiting room will not be open, and patients are asked to stay in their cars until staff is ready to see them.
“We will be allowing for more time in between patient appointments due to necessary changes to limit patient interactions and additional safety protocols,” said Fisher.
COVID-19 has affected Fisher Family Dental’s finances, as well as its ability to build rapport with patients.
“Sadly, the additional PPE will slightly remove the human connection that is so important in dentistry,” said Fisher. “Getting to truly know our patients and making them comfortable is a strong foundational piece of our practice. It will be harder to do that wearing the many layers of PPE that will make it harder for us to breath and talk in.”
The added safety measures come with a high cost.
“The updated required PPE costs are extremely high,” said Fisher. “Prior to COVID-19, we wore ASTM Level 3 surgical masks and paid approximately 24 cents per mask. Reopening, we will be wearing KN95 masks which will be approximately $6 per mask. That is the mark-up of just ONE item that is now required in dentistry. The worldwide supply chain has been altered so much in the last couple of months that I would imagine we will see a continued increase of various costs for a long time to come.”
Endicott said the biggest difficulty stemming from the coronavirus outbreak is finding PPE. Supply chain issues have been particularly tough on the field of dentistry, according to Endicott.
The logistics of reopening offer challenges, as well. Endicott said taking eight weeks of patients off schedule will make it challenging to serve everyone.
“We’ll have a little bit of catch-up,” said Endicott.
At the same time, dentistry has always been a leader in safety. Endicott expects the field to continue as such.
“We’ve worn a lot of protective equipment anyway,” said Endicott. “As long as we’re able to get current equipment, it shouldn’t be as big of an adjustment.”