Bay Area dentists are ramping up preparations for reopening their offices, which have been closed during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order except for emergency procedures but could reopen as soon as the start of June.
The California Department of Public Health last week issued guidance for resuming regular dental care. The state agency gave comprehensive instructions for how dentists and their staff should resume operating, saying they “are in the very high-risk category for exposure” to the virus.
Among the instructions are having dentists make sure they have at least a two-week supply of personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators, face shields, goggles and face masks. All patients and dental staff will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before entering an office.
Dr. Cynthia Brattesani, a San Francisco dentist for the past 31 years, is among the local dentists planning to reopen as soon as June 1, the day after the shelter-in-place order across several Bay Area counties and cities is currently set to expire.
“We’re very antsy to get back,” said Brattesani, who is still going into the office for emergency dental procedures but said she is also thinking about what the “new normal” will look like once her office reopens for regular appointments.
Dentistry is an especially tricky job amid a pandemic, she said, because dental tools can create aerosol clouds carrying the virus and spread it around.
“We’re always working really hard on infection control,” Brattesani said, noting that dentists in the region have experience treating patients with HIV/AIDS and other viruses that are hazardous to dental staff.
She said expanding and improving COVID-19 testing so it can be done in a matter of minutes, rather than hours or days, will also keep dental offices safe for patients and the people treating them.
“It’s not going to do us any good if we do a test and it comes back in three days,” she said. “It has to be point of contact, not something we have to send to a lab.”
Dental offices, like many other small businesses, have been dependent on government relief programs to try to make ends meet since the shelter-in-place order went into effect in mid-March, with many having to do furloughs and layoffs.
“The more we wait, the more devastating it is to these offices,” Brattesani said.
She said her office has seen an uptick in emergency procedures needed since the shelter order started, so patients are likely just as eager as dentists to reopen the offices.
“We’re noticing that as time goes on, teeth are not waiting for us,” Brattesani said. “Decay is not patient, it keeps going.”