The dental industry in California took a small but meaningful step forward as offices up and down the state reopened their doors to more patients earlier this month. ADC client Stephanie Sandretti, DDS, spoke to The Sacramento Bee about the preparations her team is taking to welcome patients back safely.

The welcome news was also met with a pause of caution. How safe will it be? What precautions will be taken?

Given the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, these are understandable questions we should all think about.

As California continues to lead by example, it is also providing guidance to dental offices on how to safely forge ahead and welcome patients back into the dentist chair.

In a memo, the state outlined guidance given what is currently known about transmission of the coronavirus and the implications on dental practices.

Resuming deferred and preventive dental care is extremely important, but not as critical as keeping families safe during dental visits and procedures.

According to California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, dental health care is considered a high-risk category for exposure during certain procedures, unfortunately.

To mitigate the risk, it’s important for dental offices to adhere to standard and transmission-based precautions. Greater awareness, training, and preparation are all recommended in the guidance.

Dental offices are also urged to use source control such as requiring everyone to wear facemask coverings to help address possible transmission from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals.

Patients with active infections should not receive treatment within the office settings. It is the responsibility of each office to work with staff and develop an appropriate plan and facility for treatment in accordance with OSHA standards.

The guidelines are intended to assist dental offices in resuming clinically necessary dental care for non-COVID 19 patients previously scheduled or who are likely to develop dental emergencies if left untreated.

Here’s an overview of the general guidelines:

Dental practitioners may be subject to more stringent stay-at-home guidelines depending on their location. Local health authorities issue the orders, which must be followed.

This is why it’s important to continuously monitor developments and evaluate the status of these orders.

The California COVID-19 Statewide Case Statistics dashboard will break down data by county and is regularly updated.

Supplies such as PPE (personal protective equipment) have become everyday vernacular during the COVID-10 pandemic. For good reason: they save lives and protect those on the front lines.

Dental offices, too, must ensure that supplies such as PPE and sanitation materials are fully stocked. At minimum, this means about a two-week’s supply of PPE for doctors and staff.

The list of supplies should include N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, surgical masks, and other equipment designed to help limit the spread of infection.

Screen and test
Before entering the building, everyone, including staff and patients, must be screened for symptoms.

Screening should occur using a telehealth platform or via consultation with the patient’s medical provider.

The assessment includes exposure to someone who’s been diagnosed (within two weeks) and the common symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and unexplained fever.

If needed, dental offices should consult with the patient’s physician for testing information. Testing must occur prior to care and should be assessed along with screening, contact history, and other criteria outlined by OSHA.

Anyone suspected or confirmed of having the illness should not enter the dental office. Staff who arrive to work feeling well and then develop signs or symptoms should be asked to go home immediately and begin to self-isolate.

The office should be marked with visual alerts.

Signs and posters explaining what’s happening, instructions on hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and coughing etiquette must be strategically placed throughout the office.

For more information on the guidance and additional resources, you can visit the California Department of Public Health.

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