On being COVID-safe
I’m writing this not as a boast or as a means of telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but as a way of reassuring dentists and their patients that dentistry is safe.
As dentists, dental nurses, therapists and hygienists, we’ve always worked in one of the cleanest environments outside of surgical operating theatres. The levels of cleaning and sterilisation that we all adhere to are well above those that you’ll find in any shop, supermarket, pharmacy or dare I even say GP practice. We have always cleaned our rooms top to bottom between every patient and with the arrival of COVID we have made significant additions to our protocols to keep everyone safe.
We reopened our practice on the 8th June 2020, as soon as we were allowed to do so and having started slowly, using two of the four surgeries on an alternating basis with one hour per patient, we’ve gradually been able to increase the volume of patients we see whilst still maintaining safe practices such as not keeping people in the waiting room and leaving an appropriate fallow time after an “aerosol generating procedure”. We’ve also not been allowing any patients with any COVID-like symptoms into the building.
During the last seven months, I know I personally have seen one patient who found out the day after her hour long fillings appointment that she did indeed have COVID (she’s fine now, by the way). She was asymptomatic in the morning but developed a cough and a temperature in the evening after her appointment with me in the morning and a day later was confirmed positive. We had taken all the recommended steps, including wearing gowns, next level masks and we had an appropriate fallow period.
We will undoubtedly have also seen numerous patients who are asymptomatic carriers of COVID.
I had my first COVID antibody test last week, the one that tells you if you have any cells in your body that indicate that you’ve had the virus. It came back negative. Whilst I can’t be certain of the accuracy of the tests, nor the length of time my body would store COVID antibodies, it was reassuring to see that despite seeing patients on a daily basis that I’ve probably not had it. Several other members of staff in the practice have now had the same test and the same result. This is coupled with the weekly tests that we're all now having and priority access to the vaccine as frontline healthcare workers which we will be getting as soon as we can.
What I take from this is that when taking appropriate measures to protect ourselves and our patients, it is safe to continue to work in a dental practice and it is safe to visit one as a patient. As we know from the turmoil of lockdown 1.0, dentistry is an essential service and none of us want to go through the enforced closing of doors which prevented from providing our patients with the level of care we expect.
For those that want to know what PPE I’m using, I have a 3M FFP2 mask with reusable gowns, a surgeons cap and a visor over my loupes. If any dentists reading this do want to talk for reassurance or to discuss our protocols, please drop me a line.