With the governor’s emergency orders limiting businesses to essential and non-essential, dentists fall into essential.
However, their governing body, the American Dental Association, has suggested its members only accept emergency cases and not elective services such as cleanings. The Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners has mandated that offices only serve emergency patients.
Dr. Trey Donahoe of Family Dental Care in Indianola noted the “virus has slowed us down since we are only focusing on emergent care. However, we are happy to help any way we can to alleviate pain and infection.”
On top of the already everyday sanitizing practices, dental offices are practicing social distancing and spacing out patients.
“We’re taking extra precautions and reiterating what our normal protocol is. We were ahead of the game in keeping things sterile,” Dr. Donahoe said. “Our hours are still 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.”
Dr. Julia Hill of Hill and Hardin Dental has limited hours from 8:00 a.m. to noon but has an emergency number for after-hours help.
“In the beginning we were trying to make sure the ER wasn’t overrun with things we could take care of. We are dealing with emergencies, trauma, infection and pain,” she said. “Some weeks we’ve been there every day. Some weeks we are there just a few days. Some patients you can do things to get them by.”
Dentists are under the mandate from the ADA until April 27th but that could change.
“We’re not quite sure if they are going to extend it another week or what they are planning on. Every day is just a wait and see what to do to help flatten the curve. We’ve seen a fair amount of emergencies,” Dr. Donahoe said.
Dr. Jeff Andrews of Andrews Dental Clinic in Drew has shortened hours but is working to accommodate emergencies. He noted the dental board sent out guidelines to dentists outlining what procedures are elective and what are emergency.
“I’m following the guidelines and people with emergencies – toothache, broken tooth, root canals – but elective procedures are being postponed,” Dr. Andrews said. “We are trying to book one patient at a time. I only see one person in the office at a time. The rest of the patients we ask them to wait in their car until we’re ready for them. We are trying to minimize contact between patients.”
By being open, dentists are keeping dental and oral emergencies out of the hospital emergency rooms. Dentists are also cranking up their already stringent practices of sterilization and cleaning of their offices and facilities.
“We were already doing that but we have ramped up as far as what we’re doing to clean the entire office. We use on a daily basis a medical grade sterilant and disinfectant,” Dr. Andrews said.
Dr. Hill notes there will be changes when things get back to a new normal. “From the time a patient leaves a room, the whole room is wiped down and we are using as much disposable as we can,” she said. “As a whole dentistry is good about keeping sanitized because we are exposed all of the time to coughs and colds. Then there are bloodborne pathogens that we are always protecting against. Moving forward it will be a little bit more with the protective wear we’ll have to have with different masks and shields.”
She noted those items are hard to come by at the moment with a bulk of that stock going to hospitals and those on the front lines of fighting coronavirus. Dr. Donahoe also added that dentists are donating personal protection equipment – masks, gloves and other items – to health care facilities and nursing homes in need.
Dr. Brad Jenkins could not be reached for this story, but his offices also currently open for dental emergencies in Indianola.