KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and preserve personal protective equipment and patient care supplies for hospitals during the pandemic, dental practices across the state stopped all non-emergency procedures in March.
More than a month later, with new health and safety guidelines in place, dental practices are reopening for elective procedures, surgeries, and other non-urgent dental visits.
For a Knoxville dentist with 30 years of experience, it’s unlike anything he’s experienced before.
“It’s been very challenging to know what to do,” said Dr. Donnie Dean.
Dean owns Dean Cosmetic Dentistry Center in Knoxville. His team has spent the last several weeks following updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, and the American Dental Hygienist Association, along with state and local orders, to determine what procedures need to be implemented to reopen safely.
“Day-to-day is similar, it’s just we’ve added some extra precautions to strengthen the patient’s confidence in us to exceed their expectations,” said Melissa Knight, Dental Hygienist at Dean Cosmetic Dentistry Center.
Knight took the lead in making sure the dental practice was up-to-speed with the latest guidelines. She says it’s been a process that was worth it, in the end, because she knows patients will come in to the safest environment possible.
Dean Cosmetic Dentistry Center installed air purifiers in the office to clean the air. They’ve also implemented a new process for patients arriving to appointments. They must call or text when they arrive to keep the number of people inside the office as small as possible.
Once they’re told to come inside, every patient’s temperature is taken and they are escorted directly to the exam room.
Dental hygienists and Dr. Dean are required to wear more personal protective equipment than usual. That includes a plastic protective face shield over their mask.
These rules aren’t just limited to this Knoxville practice, but rather, the guidelines for all dental practices statewide.
Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order No. 31 limiting non-emergency dental procedures until 12:01 a.m., Central Daylight Time, on May 6, 2020.
In accordance with the American Dental Association, dental practices are also asking patients to sign a COVID-19 Treatment Consent Form. It asks patients to include any exposure to COVID-19, potential symptoms, or illness they’ve experienced or are currently experiencing.
The final step of the new guidelines include giving final outlines of a patient’s dental plan and payment over the phone. The patient can call back from the safety of their car or home to limit contact and time spent inside the offices.
Entertaining and educating
Although their offices were closed to non-emergency procedures, the staff at Dean Cosmetic Dentistry wanted to stay engaged with their patients.
They turned to social media. Through videos posted to Facebook, office manager Karen Mann says she wanted to keep patients smiling.
“Under normal circumstances, I feel like it’s my job to make someone feel better when they walk in here. Who wants to go to the dentist? A lot of people are anxious. If I can do anything to bring their anxiety down make them laugh or whatever, I take that very seriously,” said Mann.
Mann says they take the closure and the guidelines seriously. She said knowing it is a stressful time for their patients and staff, too, inspired her to make videos that were enjoyable.
Now that the office is reopening for non-emergency services, they’re using the platform to educate.
“It’s been a really good way to let people know what we’re doing, stepping up the PPE, and we miss you, can’t wait to see you,” said Mann.
Videos outlining the new PPE equiptment hygienists will wear, to the newly installed plastic safety shield at the front desk, are becoming regular content for the dentistry’s Facebook page.
They’ve also outlined the guidelines on their website alongside a correlating video reintroducing the team.
“For now, I think it’s the new normal,” said Dr. Dean.