Dentists are proceeding with caution as restrictions loosen throughout the province, and the public gains expectation on dental services reopening.
For the last two months, the only service dentists have been providing is emergency care for patients.
Now, as the province looks to slowly return to some form of normalcy, dentists are left with challenging questions on how to proceed with their practice.
“We have had colleagues, here in B.C. and across North America, pass away as a result of this virus” said Dr Chris Bryant, a Sooke dentist for nearly three decades. “To disregard the inherent danger of the situation would be tantamount to neglect, and disrespectful of those who have died as a result of this pandemic.”
Bryant said he has not received any direction from Worksafe B.C. or the College of Dental Surgeons of B.C. about how to begin practicing again, and how to do so in a way that ensures safety for both staff and patients.
“The real challenge will be getting individual offices equipped with both personal protective equipment for staff and to establish patient flow protocols that are consistent with both Worksafe B.C. and College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia expectations,” Bryant said.
“There is no way in the world that dental professionals want to conduct themselves in a manner that endangers staff or patients, and in doing so spool up a second wave of this virus.That would be an awful legacy.”
Sooke dentist Tera Groff, who has been practicing for about 20 years, expressed a similar concern, saying she too has not received direct guidance from the CDSBC.
“I feel it has been quite vague, and we have sort of been left on our own,” Groff said. “The College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia didn’t really rally to give us guidance.”
Groff took matters into her own hands, setting specific protocols in place early on in the pandemic, in order to continue providing service.
“We were very on top of it because there are only three dentists in Sooke, a growing community, and feel an obligation to treat those who need to be seen,” said Groff. “But in order to do so, I needed to protect myself, my staff, and the patients.”
Groff practices out of Otter Point Dental, and the office has implemented all recommendations from provincial health authorities in the office, such as putting up Plexiglass, spacing out patients, wearing masks and visors, only using hand scale instruments which don’t spray off aerosols, and only providing emergency care to patients.
The CDSBC responded saying all registrants of its organization have received guidance through regularly updated website, and through a new document released on May 15, which outlines how to proceed through phase 2 of the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have taken our lead from the provincial health officer and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and did so in the development of this document,” said the CDSBC. “The move into phase 2 is intended to be a careful re-start. CDSBC does not expect any dental professional to provide treatment unless, in their professional opinion, it is safe to do so for both patients and the dental team.”
As restrictions start to loosen throughout the province, Groff is confident in slowly beginning to see more patients.
“I feel we have taken every precaution, taking in the research, and have been staying on top of things,” Groff said. “Not getting much guidance from a governing body, dentists have had to make our own decisions based on science and guidance from the public health officer.
“It is hard to say when things will get back to normal, but first we will ensure we are doing the right thing for each individual patient, and make sure everyone is comfortable and safe as things roll out in coming weeks and months.”
Byrant is also unsure of what things will look like once his office reopens fully, but assumes it will be a slow transition, with increased time between appointments to make sure things are adequately prepared before the next patient, as well, modifying the office to meet physical distancing measures.
“While understanding the needs of patients, this process is going to have to commence slowly and methodically,” said Bryant. “Dentists will proceed wisely and with forethought.”
He added that for the time being, he is going to continue focusing solely on emergency needs of people in the community, until more clarity is given around proper procedures.
“Asking supply chains to provide PPE for dentists to get back to so-called regular work seems a bit trivial at the moment given the demands in other parts of Canada and the world,” said Bryant.
“We will simply have to wait patiently until the medical models and supply issues allow us to better address a solution to this most unparalleled situation that we find ourselves in.”