As a registered dental hygienist in the state of Maryland for almost 36 years, practicing in Frederick County for the last 21, I would like to comment on a recent article in The News-Post, “As offices open back up, dentists hope for new policies."
First, the dentist quoted and pictured in the article is not using proper infection control protocols or PPE, in light of post-COVID guidelines, so immediately I am skeptical of his opinion.
Here in Maryland, Governor Hogan has allowed dental practices to reopen with certain stipulations in place, including patient screening, proper PPE and distancing. The “routine” dental appointment will look very different moving forward. It is important for the general public and our local/state/federal officials to understand that the dental profession is considered in the Very High Risk category for contracting COVID-19 due to our exposure to aerosols in the workplace.
Most dental procedures produce aerosols from a patient’s oral cavity. The dental setting is usually not in a hospital so our access to PPE, specifically the n95 masks and disposable gowns has been very difficult to procure, yet our profession — dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants — remain at very high risk.
Guidelines are confusing, mainly because when Governor Hogan allowed health care facilities to reopen for elective care, he clumped dentistry in with other less exposed professions. It is my understanding that no one from the Maryland Board of Dental Examiners was included when decisions were being made to reopen the state for elective health care.
So we have the CDC and OSHA staying with their recommendations to provide emergency care only in dental offices, but the state of Maryland (which supersedes both) allowing elective care asking providers to “exercise their individual professional judgement in determining what procedures are appropriate."
A consensus or clarification is needed moving forward. Dentistry is an important part of health care, as many systemic diseases and conditions are often a result of the inflammation and poor health in the oral cavity. Our goal is to preserve the health of the entire person by educating our patients to properly care for their teeth and gums and by treating decay and periodontal disease.
Our office is ready to return to practice once we can ensure the safety of our patients and staff, with new infection control protocols and PPE in place. My job as a registered dental hygienist, prevention professional and educator is to let our patients and the general public know once and for all, it’s NOT “just a cleaning."