Our COVID-19 frontline series continues as we chat with Dr. Melody Stampe, DDS, FAGD. I’ve been a patient at her practice, Cityline Dental Care for several years and have personally appreciated the high standard of dental care I’ve received from the entire staff. Many are asking if it’s safe to visit the dentist during a pandemic. Melody explains what her staff is doing to ensure that patients are safe and also provides additional advice and safety precautions that we can all take on our next office visit.
Has COVID-19 changed how you provide dental care to your patients?
At the beginning of the COVID outbreak, we realized greater precautions would need to be taken to prevent spread of the virus due to the nature of our profession. During the first several weeks of medical restrictions, we had to choose carefully what procedures we could or would perform. Only emergency procedures to eliminate pain or repair broken teeth or appliances were allowed. The need for additional PPE and barriers has increased, and many items had to be ordered such as additional gowns, gloves, face shields, specialized masks, and barrier products. Disposable gowns are still in very short supply across the country and hard to obtain. Additional infection control procedures and patient screening has been implemented which requires extra time and attention.
What steps have you taken to sanitize your office, facilities, etc.
Infection control has always been a top priority for our practice. Our infection control processes are made so that when our patients receive care, it’s both safe and comfortable. We performed a thorough deep cleaning of the entire office and covered as many surfaces as we could with disposable barriers that could be changed between patients. We purchased extra surface disinfectants, paper and plastic barriers, hand sanitizer, and air purifiers. Each patient is provided with a pen to take with them to minimize uses from multiple people. On a regular schedule, we wipe all touchable surface areas with an approved surface cleaner including tables, chair arms, doorknobs, light switches, countertops and anything else with which people come in contact.
How have appointment schedules been adjusted?
We have extended appointment times, so that we can properly sterilize our treatment rooms. We attempt to treat one patient at a time and have slowed our pace to reduce going from room to room. We are scheduling less patients per day to eliminate the amount of people in the office at one time. We also attempt to eliminate wait times so that patients are taken directly to their treatment room. A lot are asking if it’s safe to go to the dentist right now steps they’re taking to provide safe dental care during this time.
Where are the guidelines used to support the standard of care you offer in your practice? (Om SHA, Texas Dental Association, etc.)
Our guidelines are set by the Texas State Board and Governor Abbott. They can be found here: http://tsbde.texas.gov/covid-19/ . Our office follows infection control recommendations made by the American Dental Association (ADA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We follow the activities of these agencies so that we are up-to-date on any new rulings or guidance that may be issued.
How is your staff protected to support the best patient care? (E.g. PPE)
We are now wearing long-sleeved jackets or gowns, face shields or safety glasses, and specialized masks (N95 or KN95) for respiratory particles. A new mask sterilizer has been provided to keep our staff and patients safe. New surface disinfectants that are proven to kill the coronavirus have been purchased, as well as increased disposable plastic barriers for our equipment in the treatment room. Our front desk personnel are wearing masks and gloves when necessary as they interact with our patients. Our patients are required to use hand sanitizer and oral rinses before treatment. We are paying strict attention to hand hygiene. The staff are instructed to clean hands thoroughly upon entry into the workplace, before and after any contact with patients, and after contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment. Each employee must have their temperature taken upon entry into the office.
Do you require any additional steps from your patients?
Our office will communicate with our patients before appointments to ask some screening questions. They’ll be asked those same questions again and their temperature will be taken when they enter the office. We have hand sanitizer that we require all people entering and exiting the office to use. Patients will see that our waiting room will no longer offers magazines, children’s toys and so forth, since those items are difficult to clean and disinfect. Appointments will be managed to allow for social distancing between patients. That might mean that they’re offered fewer options for scheduling appointments. We do our best to allow greater time between patients to reduce waiting times, as well as to reduce the number of patients in the reception area at any one time. Patient’s may also wait in their car depending on comfort level. We also ask that patients limit bringing family members or companions to their appointments. Before beginning treatment, our patients are asked to rinse with an anti-bacterial and anti-viral mouth rinse.
Are there procedures on hold or out of bounds during this time?
The hygienists have had to reduce using certain instruments, such as the ultrasonic cleaner, that releases more particles in the air. We are able to perform all restorative procedures on our patients.
What advice would you give to patients before they come to your office for care?
Please be patient and comply with our new infection control policies and procedures. Since we had to reschedule 6 weeks of hygiene appointments, please be flexible and available if possible to find a new appointment time. We are all in this “new normal” together, and doing our absolute best to keep our patients and staff safe. The amount of time it takes to properly screen, disinfect and manage social distancing has increased and affected all aspects of the dental practice. Please be honest when answering questions on the screening questionnaire, especially about your recent travel history. Please wait two weeks to come into the office if you have recently traveled to another state or city in Texas that has multiple positive COVID-19 cases.