PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As medical professionals begin putting in place their structure for re-opening for non-emergency procedures on Friday, many dental offices are putting measures into place to keep them and their patients safe.
The Oregon Health Authority has not yet come out with specific safety guidelines, although it’s expected they will have more information later in the week.
At Summerwood Family Dental in Tigard, they’re planning a soft opening on May 4. Like many dental offices they were surprised by Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement last week.
“I think we all were pretty shocked. We were prepared to be closed until June 15. That was the original date we were given,” said Dr. Julie Spaniel, the owner of Summerwood Family Dental.
Since then they’ve been working to put safety measures in place.
Since they closed in mid-March, they have only seen patients with an emergency. When they re-open next Monday, they won’t be doing any aerosol procedures like crowns and fillings. They’re also spacing out appointments to limit the number of patients and staff inside.
“At this early point where we have active disease in the community I think it’s extremely important that we limit the number of people,” she told KOIN 6 News. “So if I’ve got one person waiting for the hygienist and one person in the hygienist chair, that’s already two people in the office. So we are going to have to spend more time with those patients…”
Any patient who comes in to their office without a mask will be given one, and all dental providers will be wearing N95 masks.
“I am interested to see if there is anything else,” said Dr. Spaniel. “In dentistry we are one profession that we do produce aerosols with the work that we do and that’s a huge concern to me because I want to make sure our patients are safe and that my providers are safe.”
Her husband works in design engineering construction of high purity systems and they’ve assembled a team to improve air purity systems inside their office.
“Each treatment room will be isolated so when we are producing those aerosols we are isolating them within the room,” Dr. Spaniel said. “We will be closing off our treatment rooms. We will also be using HEPA filtration systems with pre-filtered charcoal and that will filter out the virus.”
There will also be vents to purify the air in common areas. Summerwood Family Dental will limit services to non-aerosol procedures until our office remodel is completed in three weeks.
If a patient can wait a little longer for a procedure, she said, that would help space out appointments. But consult with your doctor if the procedure is urgent.
“If we are not ready we are not going to open or we may have soft openings,” she said. “But this is a time. What is it going to look like when our patients walk in the door.”
‘I am scared’
One hygienist who works for another dentist office in Portland spoke with KOIN 6 News said she wants to see the official state guidelines first before feeling comfortable re-opening. Annette Hahn said she can’t clean from 6 feet away.
“My first concern is that I am in direct contact with their breathing directly on me,” said Hahn, who does not work at Summerwood Family Dental. “Usually my PPE protects me enough but with a virus like this that is novel I don’t have those available to me. I don’t know if there are enough N95 masks, I would also want a face shield.”
Hahn said she uses an ultrasonic cleaner a lot, which helps people with dental problems and tartar. But that increases the aerosol factor, which could spread the virus in a dental office.
“I was very surprised because I thought California and Washington and Oregon were all going to stay in accordance with each other,” she said. “I understand the economy needs to get back in order but at the same time we need to protect the people who are out there. I don’t want to put my family at risk. That might kill me.”
She said she plans on writing a letter ot the Oregon Dental Association and to Gov. Brown.
“I am scared. I am sorry. I don’t want to be forced to go into something that is scary like that.”