Consider this a reminder to book your next check-up at the dentist. After months of social distancing prevented routine dental appointments from taking place in order to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, dental offices are officially open for business. But it won’t quite be business as usual.
As part of New York State’s four-phase reopening, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Sunday that dentists can reopen statewide on June 1 under the condition that providers follow state guidance on best practices for safety and social distancing.
In the 12-page “Interim Guidance for Dentistry during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency” released by the governor’s office, the protocols outlined include wearing proper face coverings and maintaining appropriate physical distancing by limiting in-person interaction to necessary staff.
Here on Long Island, dental providers have been taking steps to ready offices for the scheduled reopening during the peak of the pandemic by monitoring guidelines from the New York State Department of Health as well as the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A prime example is that dental employees will be regularly screened for the virus in accordance with the CDC’s recommendations.
Dr. Harvey Passes, DDS and owner of Passes Dental Care in Great Neck, has spent the past three months discussing the reopening with colleagues nationwide via Zoom and WhatsApp. Passes said the consensus is that dentists are uniquely positioned to safely practice during the pandemic since disinfecting has always been a top priority within the industry.
“We already knew what we’d have to do,” he said. “The concept of sterilization is not new to us. We have been doing it our entire careers with the same disinfectants that kill the coronavirus. We are prepared.”
On the first of the month, ProHEALTH Dental reopened all of its nine offices in Lake Success, Huntington, Bay Shore, Oceanside, Long Island City, Howard Beach, Corona, Astoria and White Plains.
“Setting up our offices to follow safety protocols for our patients and staff is the top priority in preparing to reopen,” ProHEALTH Dental Management CEO Norton L. Travis said. “Dental health is a critical part of overall health, and we encourage everyone to schedule an appointment with us in order to maintain their overall health and well-being.”
What Patients Can Expect
Under the new safety guidelines, there will be changes when visiting dentists for an appointment. For example, providers will ask screening questions about possible exposure to COVID-19 prior to making an appointment. You’ll be asked those same questions again when you are in the office, Travis noted.
Of course, patients are required to wear face masks during their visits, but there will be other noticeable changes. Hand sanitizer will be readily available and waiting rooms will no longer offer magazines or children’s toys because those items are difficult to clean and disinfect. Furthermore, appointments will be scheduled and managed to allow for social distancing between patients.
“We will do our best to allow greater time between patient appointments to reduce waiting times for you, as well as to reduce the number of patients in the reception area at any one time,” Travis said. “For instance, you can wait for your appointment in your car and we will call or text you when it is time for your appointment.”
To prepare patients for this new normal, Passes Dental Care created a two-minute video outlining its new safety measures and patient protocols. These steps include the installation of an air filtration system and requiring patients to rinse with disinfecting mouthwash before and after any procedure. The office will now sterilize paperwork and payment methods.
“The office is safer than any other place you could be,” Passes said. “Safely treating patients and protecting my staff is my priority.”
The pandemic has no doubt changed the ways medical offices operate. Telehealth and telemedicine visits, where patients can connect with a physician via a screen, are on the rise and will remain in practice long after Phase 4. Similarly, teledentistry, which was used by ProHEALTH Dental during the shutdown, is here to stay for patients who may request teledentistry, Travis said.
Even with this new normal, Passes said the practice is committed to the principals it always upheld: compassion and communication.
“The single most important thing we have done and will always do is listening, caring and explaining,” Passes said. “I am a firm believer in education.”