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Shelley Shearer: Kentucky’s dental offices of the future are here — take a peek at the safe ‘new normal’


As Governor Beshear digests information from a state task force, the American Dental Association and national health organizations, restrictions on dental offices around Kentucky are lifting. You are about to see dental offices as you perhaps never imagined.

We are all working with our staff right now to implement dramatic changes to keep our patients and staff safe. Here is a rundown on what you can expect in the weeks ahead with the phased, gradual reopening of services that the Governor has mentioned in his daily news briefings.

Dr. Rojas and Dr. Shearer — ready for the ‘new normal’

Teledentistry

This is a new way to work preliminarily with patients to assess dental problems, educate and counsel in lieu of an immediate visit. While chatting over Facetime, Google Duo or another video conferencing method is no substitution for an in-the-chair visit, it is a sort of triage that helps us figure out what the patient needs and how urgently the patient must be seen.

Waiting Rooms

Say farewell to time by our cozy fireplace and comfortable chairs. Large waiting rooms are becoming a thing of the past. All registrations, dental histories and payments are evolving toward being taken online or over the phone.

This enables patients to come straight from the car to the exam room without interaction with others. In fact, patients will be screened outside the dental office, usually in a car, before they enter the building. Dental personnel will screen patients and passengers for COVID-19 or other Aerosol Transmitting Disease (ATD) and take temperatures.

They will accompany patients to the office and give a wave to our front desk personnel who will now sit behind protective glass and/or wear PPE (personal protective equipment) that will shield them from air-borne viruses and bacteria. The lone waiting room visitors will be parents of pediatric patients, expected to follow the six-feet-apart rule that they now know so well.

Retrofitting the waiting room.

In cases where dental offices or patients are not yet ready to process paperwork online, the Commonwealth recommends that pens used by patients and visitors should be considered the property of the user and credit cards will be disinfected before their use by office staff.

The Dental Team

All team members will be screened daily for symptoms and body temperature. These results will be recorded and filed daily. Any ill staff are required to remain at home. Special guidelines have been prepared for dealing with staff who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19.

Of course, an emphasis on handwashing will be even greater than what we experience now, ensuring that our patients, no matter how young, get the royal treatment as will their masked pediatric guardians if they must be present. Hand sanitizer is expected to be plentiful. As for PPE, all dental professionals seek to use the professional-grade N95 masks, known to eliminate 95% of airborne elements. Masks for anyone who enters the office is the new normal. Expect the dental team to wear non-latex gloves and change them between patients.

Sanitization

If you thought our offices were clean before, just wait. We’ll be sanitizing and disinfecting in a greatly enhanced manner, cleaning surfaces in treatment areas between each patient and at the end of the day. We will also place greater emphasis on cleaning entrances, waiting area chairs (the few we may have left), and restrooms.

COVID-19 Positive Patients

These individuals may still need dental care and a long wait for an appointment may not be in their best interest. They will be scheduled as the last patient of the day to reduce contact. The dental team will be ready with gowns, gloves, N95 masks, goggles with side protection, face shields and hair coverings. Dental surfaces will be disinfected both after the patient leaves and then again first thing in the morning.

To reduce airborne viruses spreading, the public may not have heard of the use of treatment boxes that fit over a patient’s head, leaving access to the mouth, UV lights, and various generators that can clean the treatment room atmosphere. Sterilization of equipment is still a vital mainstay.

Our New Normal

We are all adjusting to new paradigms for societal interaction. Dental offices are no exception. While this new normal is an adjustment for all of us, we are willing to do whatever it takes to keep our patients and dental staff as safe as possible.

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence, the largest all-female dental practice in Northern Kentucky.


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