West Virginia’s governor, in consultation with the West Virginia Board of Dentistry and other state regulators, gave oral healthcare professionals in the mountain state the go-ahead to reopen on May 11 for comprehensive care after being limited to providing only emergency treatment for approximately two months.
WVU Dental reopened for comprehensive care to existing patients on May 18 amid a number of COVID-19 precautions. The date for reopen for the WVU School of Dentistry clinics gave clinicians and academic leaders extra time to implement additional safety processes including an effort to equip providers with modified protective gear.
As recommended by the American Dental Association, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other governing bodies, West Virginia dental providers have instituted enhanced prescreening procedures to lessen the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“Everyone in the School of Dentistry and at WVU Dental is acutely aware of the transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus, and in dentistry, we focus many of our concerns on the production of aerosols created during certain dental procedures,” Anthony Tom Borgia, endodontist and dean of the School of Dentistry, said. “The risks associated with aerosolization affect patients and providers alike.”
To better address these risks WVU Dental and the School of Dentistry have implemented the following protocol:
· Enhanced patient pre-screening for possible exposure to COVID-19
· Wearing of masks by all individuals in our facility
· Enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) use by our providers and staff
· COVID-19 screening of employees and students
· Enhanced housekeeping and disinfection protocols
· Social distancing in reception areas and wherever possible - seating 6 feet apart
· Clear plastic barriers where deemed appropriate
· Ensure placement of hand sanitizer stations, tissues and masks where needed
· Dental unit waterlines are regularly maintained, disinfected and tested for safety.
· Minimize effects of aerosol generating procedures using high speed evacuation
“Dental practice and clinic managers have been adapting to new regulations and procedures and are planning and designing a recovery program to address the shutdown that began March 16,” Borgia added. “A COVID-19 Task Force at the dental school was created early on in the shut down and has been chaired by Dr. Juan Bugueno from the Department of Diagnostic Sciences. Dr. Bugueno is board certified in Oral Medicine, and his committee includes both faculty and staff members. Dr. Tammy Chipps, Chair of Infection Control, is a prominent member of the committee as well.”
While the number of WVU Dental urgent care patients stayed relatively the same in 2019 and 2020 from the period of March 16 to May 13, an 80 percent drop was realized in the total number of patients seen in all clinics.
“All change comes with a period of adjustment, but the results of the great majority of changes are beneficial in the long term,” Borgia said. “Some individuals adapt more quickly than others, but change is inevitable and with our knowledge of the challenge we face, change is now reality. The changes being implemented are for the protection of patients, providers and staff. We’re all in this together and adjusting will require everyone’s cooperation and understanding. Our goal and success in reaching that goal will be defined by the continued health and safety of everyone.”
Still, area dentists expect anxiety for a while as dental professionals and their patients adjust to the new normal.
Dental professionals are hopeful reopening sooner rather than later, while taking proper safety measures, means a shorter financial recovery time to keep the doors open for good. And, it means patients get the care they need before more serious health problems develop.
“Dental care is the acknowledged leader in preventive medicine, yet it is often the most neglected aspect of staying healthy,” Borgia said. “Because symptoms of dental disease may not be obvious in the earliest stages when they are most treatable, it is imperative that patients continue with their routine care by seeing their oral health care providers, even in this time of COVID-19. The dental profession, through the American Dental Association, has closely monitored the current situation, made appropriate recommendations that have been accepted nationwide, and we are confident that all patients can be treated safely at all times. Your providers have been extensively trained to deal effectively with proper infection control techniques that will ensure your health and well-being.”
To make an appointment with a WVU Dental provider, visit the website, wvudentalcare.org, or call 304-293-6208.