New Hampshire dental practices began reopening Monday, seeing patients for non-urgent, elective procedures.
The state released guidelines on Friday that allow dentist’s offices to reopen so long as they have adequate personal protective equipment to protect staff and safely treat patients.
But Michael Auerbach, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Dental Society, says it’s not as if the floodgates are open.
“This is going to have to be a careful consideration about whether you have the adequate PPE to see a patient who could potentially have an illness,” he says. “Is your staff comfortable with going back to work in the current environment? Do you have all the protocols in place that will maximize the safety of the patients and the dental team? Those are all things that have to be considered before you can say okay, I’ll start seeing electives again.”
Auerbach says he knows of a few dental practice owners that are not comfortable opening up yet, for a variety of reasons.
“They may have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or asthma… that would make them at a higher risk of suffering much worse from the illness than others,” he says.
“There are other dentists who may just not have the PPE, and they’re waiting with bated breath for more PPE to arrive in their offices.”
Dr. Lindsey Jackson of North Country Dental in Gorham and North Conway is the president of the New Hampshire Dental Society. Her practice is holding off on reopening.
“We’re taking an extra week here to make sure we have all the materials that we need and have everybody trained appropriately so that it’s a smoother process moving forward with all the different measures that we’re incorporating,” she says.
Jackson says dentists are at an increased risk of contracting the virus due to the nature of their work, and for that reason it’s important that dentists and hygienists alike have adequate personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, eye shields, and face coverings.
But Myra Nikitas, president of the New Hampshire Dental Hygienists’ Association, and a practicing dental hygienist in Nashua, says many offices don’t have the PPE they need to safely reopen.
“I can’t even tell you the number of messages, calls, to our management company, or to me personally on Facebook or Messenger about hygienists that are terrified to go back to work or don’t feel safe to go back to work,” she says.
A big part of that, she says, is because the state’s guidelines are taken from the American Dental Association, and not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Us who hold a license, dental hygienists, dentists, we take a code of ethics and we understand that following that is important to our license. And we’ve always followed the CDC guidelines, OSHA, OSAP, and their recommendations,” says Nikitas. “It was a little bit concerning when the governor announced that he was following the ADA guidelines. For us it’s a challenge because it goes against what we practice and what we took an oath for.”
As of Monday, May 11th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends postponing all elective procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent dental visits for at least the next several weeks.
The reopening of elective, non-urgent dental procedures is the second step in a three-phase plan to reopen the state’s dental industry. The third and final step will be the resumption of elective cosmetic procedures and the use of ultrasonic scaling.