Dental professionals: May 1 is too soon to return to work

Coronavirus

Dental hygienists have one of the riskiest non-hospital jobs during a pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday all non-urgent medical procedures can resume May 1 but many professionals in the dental industry believe it’s still too early to return to work. 

Brown’s new framework for gently reopening the state requires medical and dental offices to follow guidelines on infection control laid out by the CDC. They also must have a two-week supply of personal protection equipment on hand, physical barriers and patients will need to be screened. 

But the plan has dental hygienists and assistants deeply concerned. 

“It’s scary, it’s really scary,” said Brittnei Jackson who has been a dental assistant for five years. She’s been homeschooling her kids since her office closed in March and is now trying to cope with the fear and stress of returning to work by May 1. 

“I don’t think the dental field should be in Phase One,” she told KOIN 6 News. “Our understanding was about June 15 we’d be going back.” 

Other hygienists expressed shock that the risks COVID-19 pose to dental hygienists have not been addressed. Another shared a letter she sent to Gov. Brown outlining her concerns writing, “I don’t want to kill our vulnerable patients in the name of oral health.”

Dental hygienists have one of the riskiest non-hospital jobs during a pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum, which bases the assessment on three factors: contact with others, physical proximity and exposure to disease. 

Max Janasik, who runs several health and dental clinics in the Columbia Gorge, said he’s meeting with dental experts and government leaders next week to address his concerns. 

“There’s a lot of concern over aerosolizing the virus when you do a procedure in dental,” said Janasik. “We’re waiting to have detailed discussions about how to minimize risk for both the staff and patients when we perform procedures with high speed tools.” 

While Brown says she is glad to be restarting non-urgent procedures, she stressed that Oregonians must still proceed with caution, warning that the state “may even need to take steps back.”

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