Some dental teams are returning to work as their states and workplaces begin to reopen, following approximately two months of partial or full dental office closures due to the coronavirus outbreak and the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Most U.S. dental offices temporarily closed in mid-March 2020 or treated emergency cases only. But as of May 29, dental offices in 49 states were reopened for elective procedures, according to the state-by-state mandates map compiled by the American Dental Association.
But while it’s back to work for many dental practices, it’s hardly back to work as usual. For dental teams and patients alike, the dental office is now a changed place due to COVID-19. Here are a few ways dental team tasks are changing.
Increased Focus on Infection Control
Infection prevention and control has always been important for dental practices. But now, in light of COVID-19, proper infection control is more critical than ever. Dental assistants and other dental professionals are looking for more information and resources in these areas to keep themselves and their patients safe.
There has been significant interest in the educational certificate program developed by the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) and the DALE Foundation. The OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate Program™ includes two online educational components and an online assessment.
Sheila L., CDA, recently completed the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate Program and believes the time is now for dental professionals to hone their infection control expertise. “I have been in dentistry for almost 30 years,” shares Sheila, who works as an in-office trainer, a technology adviser for a large dental supply company, and a chairside assistant. “Changes in dentistry have made us think and act differently when it comes to infection control. Patients trust that we know what we are doing to maintain a safe and healthy environment.”
Additionally, dental assistants and other dental professionals are looking for the latest interim guidance from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Implementing Patient Screening and Social Distancing
As patients begin calling dental offices again to make non-emergency appointments, the entire dental team will need to be familiar with the office’s COVID-19 screening protocols, as well as any new approaches to scheduling appointments with social distancing considerations in mind.
For example, the interim guidelines from CDC, updated on May 19, recommend telephone screening of all patients in advance of their appointments for symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and assessing all patients and visitors upon arrival.
“We have increased a lot of measures around the office,” says Arianna A. “All of our patients are being screened for COVID-19 before their appointment, and staff needs to be tested every two weeks.”
CDC’s interim guidelines also outline social distancing measures, such as installing glass or plastic barriers in the reception area, moving waiting room chairs six feet apart, removing reception-area items such as toys or magazines, and minimizing overlapping dental appointments and the number of people in the waiting room.
Providing Comfort for Concerned Patients
Uncertainty, and likely some anxiety, exists for everyone as a “new normal” begins to take shape, and this is probably true for dental patients, too. Despite social distancing and infection control precautions in place in dental offices, patients still might feel nervous about their appointment regardless — especially if they typically experience dental anxiety.
As such, some patients may seek out extra reassurance and comfort from the dental team, and especially from their dental assistant, during this time. Dental assistants will play a significant role in guiding patients through their dental experience by providing a listening ear and encouraging words.
On top of reassuring patients about the office’s social distancing efforts, dental assistants should be prepared to speak to the office’s infection control policies, so that patients feel confident they’re in good hands in a safe environment.
Now more than ever, dental assistants not only can help provide care — but can also be a calming presence for patients, and one another, in times of stress.
What changes in the workplace due to COVID-19 have you experienced? Share your story.