Dentists are clamoring for test kits, saying it is essential to be properly equipped to screen patients for the coronavirus before initiating procedures. Dentistry is one of the most hazardous professions facing reopening, say experts.
Many of the typical procedures done in the office generate aerosol clouds that that can hold germs up to three hours, increasing exposure to the dental staff and to others if a patient has the coronavirus.
ScienceDirect explains that an aerosol cloud is made up of particles and fluids that are produced during dental procedures using a rotary drill, an air syringe, or an ultrasonic scaler. It’s been well documented that infectious diseases are spread by aerosols “increasing the risk to patients and the dental team.”
Dentists have been advised to use either a negative pressure room or high input suction devices to remove the germs and reduce exposure. But many offices don’t have these tools, said Steven Guttenberg, president of the District of Columbia Dental Society.
That’s why the American Dental Association (ADA) is asking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to supply testing kits to its more than 163,000 members, so that they can swab patients in the office once the economy reopens. According to The Hill, the benefits would apply not only to dentists and their staff, but to the nation.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who is a dentist, told The Hill that he supports getting testing kits into dental offices because it will allow the country to reopen safely.
“Dentists are well-equipped to help our country reach the testing capacity needed to combat the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “This will also help us carefully reopen the economy by keeping both patients and employees safe in the process.”
Noelle Dunn, a dentist in Washington, says that a major concern is that patients can come in asymptomatic and unwittingly spread the disease to the staff and other patients.
“The last thing we want to do in the dental industry is to be a spreader of COVID-19,” she told The Hill. “We want to be part of the solution.”
Dunn said that dentists can perform a rapid test and if the patient tests positive for coronavirus, they would refer the patient to a physician and inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She noted that dentists are already qualified to administer tests for other diseases, such as HIV and diabetes.
Unfortunately, getting tests from the government may be an “uphill battle,” according to The Hill because Dunn said you would probably need one kit for every patient. “Testing kits are needed until there is an effective vaccination,” she added.
Meanwhile, dentists are treating emergency patients only, first taking their temperature and going through their medical history which includes recent travels, said The Hill.
“It has absolutely been risky,” Guttenberg said.
If dentists have to reopen without the test kits, and with or without the necessary tools to deal with aerosol clouds, they say they feel obligated to tell their patients about those shortcomings.
“The general public deserves to know the risk,” said Dunn. “As a dentist and as a medical provider, I took a Hippocratic oath and that is to do no harm,” she told The Hill.
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