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Dentist offices reopen with lots of new safety precautions

Rachel Belle had a dentist appointment the first day her dentist’s office opened with new safety precautions. (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Last week I received a text from my dentist’s office alerting me that I had an appointment coming up May 19. The office had been closed for eight weeks, with the exception of some emergency visits, so the text came as a surprise. They were responding to Governor Inslee’s announcement that dentist and doctor’s offices could reopen completely on May 18.

After the text, Seattle Dental Co sent me an email outlining all their new safety procedures. A couple days before my appointment I was sent a COVID related health survey that I needed to fill out and return before my appointment. I was told to text or call the office when I arrived and they’d let me know when it was okay to come inside. They asked me to wear a mask.

“At this point we are feeling really confident that we meet every single guideline or exceed them,” said my dentist, Dr Belinda Song. “We’ve consulted with the American Dental Association guidelines, the CDC, OSHA, WISHA. We would absolutely not be reopening if we didn’t feel safe. My business partner is seven months pregnant so we’re taking every precaution we can. One of the big reasons why we were shut down in the first place is to help preserve masks, gloves, gowns, all these things called PPE that were rerouted to hospitals. Now that the supply chains have eased up a little bit, we’re starting to reopen.”

When I got to the door, I was immediately whisked into the building and straight to a dental chair in a private suite. The days of sitting in the waiting room and reading a magazine are over, at least for the foreseeable future.

“All the normal stuff you do at the front desk, we’re going to try and do that remotely. Can we actually have you prepay online or over the phone? You’re waiting somewhere that’s socially distant. If you drive to your appointment and you have a car, you can certainly wait there and just text or call us when you’ve arrived.”

Sitting in the chair, I had my temperature taken with a plastic thermometer gun and the hygienist handed me a small cup of hydrogen peroxide to rinse with as a disinfectant mouthwash.

“We’ve upped our infection control and we are definitely layering on additional levels of PPE which is more masks, more gowns, more heavy duty gear for us,” Dr. Song said.

During my cleaning, the hygienist skipped the usual teeth polishing in favor of hand tools and there were no aerosols, just a very minimal use of water. All to minimize the spread of bacteria. Dr. Song says they, like many other dentist offices, have added an extra charge to pay for all the extra PPE and cleaning supplies.

“We really went back and forth on whether or not to implement a charge at all because we didn’t want to create any extra hardship or barriers to treatment,” Dr. Song said. “But the harsh reality is that it’s a really trying time for all businesses, especially small ones. The same thing that everyone else is experiencing with hand sanitizer and Lysol spray and toilet paper, dental offices are experiencing that with just about every single thing related to infection control. It’s been really, really difficult to get any sort of equipment and prices of everything have doubled, tripled and quadrupled. So we have enacted a Pandemic Response Fee of $20 per visit. We think this will be a temporary measure. We’re certainly working with anyone who is experiencing a financial hardship and we’re being pretty generous about waving the fee. But the ADA has also pushed insurance companies to help cover this.”

At the end of my appointment, freshly flossed with a new toothbrush in tow, the hygienist asked me to put my mask back on and get in touch if I experience any flu-like symptoms in the next 14 days. I was then escorted out the back door instead of going back through the waiting room. Beyond the hygienist and dentist, I didn’t come in contact with another person.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram & join the Quarantine Cooking Club!

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