Dental Profession Well Equipped for COVID-19 Safety
DOVER-FOXCROFT/SORRENTO – When the edge of one of my back molars broke shortly after our world had gone on lockdown, I had visions of more breakage, enormous pain and maybe even a serious infection. I wasn’t sure help was available. Luckily, recommendations from Facebook friends pointed me toward Steinke and Caruso Dental Care, which has offices in Dover-Foxcroft and Sorrento that are open for emergency care during this time. But…did I want to risk exposure to the virus?
I was nervous, but I knew the tooth could become a serious issue. I left a message on their voice mail around 7:45 a.m. that Monday. Dr. Steinke called me back within five minutes, had me on the phone with his office staff by 8:15, and they got me in for care by 8:30. Safety precautions were everywhere. I needed to wait in my car until someone came out to get me – only one patient in the building at a time. My temperature was taken. I was then directed to a hand washing station. After signing some paperwork (and more hand sanitizer) I was escorted by an already masked, gloved, gowned dental professional into the exam room, where my tooth was sealed with a bonding agent. Color me impressed!
“The good news is that we in the dental field have been practicing universal precautions to make both our patients and ourselves safe since the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s,” Hillary Caruso, DMD, recently posted on the father/daughter dental practice’s Facebook page. “It was then we changed dramatically our protocols for infection control, safety and personal protection. Our profession has been a leader in making the medical environment safe for decades.”
Before AIDS, it was standard practice for dentists not to wear gloves and to simply wash their hands, and their instruments, with soap and water between patients. Needles were reused. “That is crazy to think about now,” Dr. Caruso said on April 23.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and state mandate to postpone non-emergent procedures, Steinke and Caruso (and other dental practices) remain open only for emergencies.
“We are staying open to help keep people out of emergency rooms and primary care offices during this time, allowing those practitioners to focus their resources on treating the truly sick,” Dr. Caruso said. “We are limiting treatment to root canals, extractions and sealing broken teeth that are causing pain.” Once the Maine CDC decides it is safe to resume non-emergent procedures, the practice will quickly return to full service dentistry.
There hasn’t been any specific guidance yet from the American Dental Association or the CDC as to what guidelines will need to be in place going forward, Dr. Caruso said.
“All I do is spend time researching best practices,” she said. Because COVID-19 is airborne rather than blood borne, procedures that cause aerosols are not performed at this time. Dental professionals wear surgical hair caps, and masks, preferably the N95 model when available, and a face shield goes over the mask. Because N95s are in high demand for medical professionals in direct contact with COVID patients, regular procedural masks can be used and covered with the face shield, as well.
“What we decided for our office, which has not been mandated yet, was to purchase air purifiers that had been on the market prior to this,” said Dr. Caruso. The machines use UV light and hepa filters to purify the air and kill potential viruses. “We have one for every dental treatment room and also for the reception room. They change out the air up to six times an hour.”
Another purchase was a “dry shield” which guards the tongue and cuts down on the amount of aerosols sprayed during certain dental procedures. These things, as well as all of the safety precautions I experienced, will stay in place when the practice reopens for routine procedures. And patients will be asked to rinse their mouths with hydrogen peroxide, a new protocol added since my visit.
“We all know that there is light at the end of this uncertain tunnel,” Dr. Caruso wrote on Facebook. “We are at work now making sure, when we can get back to treating our patients, it is with the highest standards for health and safety in this COVID-19 world.”
For more information about Steinke and Caruso Dental Care, visit centralmainesmiles.com or call 564-3455 in Dover-Foxcroft or 422-3770 in Sorrento.