As our suburban Detroit practice joins with dentists nationwide in awaiting the new protocols for dental practices in a post-COVID-19 world, we decided early on in the pandemic to aggressively forge ahead and adopt health and safety best practices we believe will go beyond the anticipated new standard protocols for patient-centered, progressive dentistry.
While our practice has continued to see emergency patients and perform “necessary” dentistry during the lockdown, I know some dental practices have used the stay-at-home order as time off, with their doors closed even for emergency dentistry. Despite what practices choose to do during this time, the need to make changes is essential.
COVID-19 is going to create a marked shift in dentistry because people will demand it. Patients will be scrutinizing their dentist office experience and expecting the highest level of safety, whereas previously, safety measures may have just been assumed. For those of us who have always aimed to be on the forefront of dentistry, especially as a component of overall health and wellness, this is game time.
Our practice has always been an early adopter of any technology, equipment, and techniques that improve the patient experience and results. In this current environment, we are applying this philosophy to maximize the health and safety of our patients and our team members while also maintaining and broadening our reputation as dental care leaders.
But absent new regulations and mandated protocols, where to begin? To provide the best, safest dental experience during this quarantine, but also for our work moving forward, we chose three focus areas: technology, equipment, and enhanced safety protocols.
The use of technology has always helped differentiate our practice from others in our community. We believe that if new technology can improve patient care and allow us to deliver a superior product, it is our obligation to our patients to learn and adopt it.
Virtual patient consults have been a game-changer for us. We just started to implement virtual consults for smile makeovers and other reconstructive dentistry when COVID-19 struck. Already seeing the efficiency and effectiveness this virtual meeting provided in today’s busy world, we truly realized its potential when forced into quarantine.
The number of patients that we have been able to “meet” and help through the use of virtual consults has been both surprising and gratifying. One woman suffered for 11 days with her jaw locked due to a severe temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder emergency. When she called us inquiring about the complimentary virtual consult we are offering during the crisis, she was crying hysterically, yet thrilled that we were willing to possibly treat her. She had already called more than 10 offices who refused to see her. With the use of a HIPPA-compliant virtual consult, we confirmed she was a candidate for TMJ orthotic therapy.
The advantage of seeing the patient virtually allowed us to witness her limited range of motion, visualize her large overbite and misaligned dentition, and, most importantly, make an emotional connection with body language. We initially attempted calling in a prescription for a muscle relaxer to alleviate her symptoms and possibly avoid an office visit, but it wasn’t enough.
Utilizing strict new protocols, the patient presented to our office. We utilized K-Laser therapy to reduce inflammation in the joint and provide pain relief, and we used the Myotronics J5 Dental TENS unit to relax the main facial and neck muscles surrounding the TM joints. In combination with computerized jaw tracking technology, we were able to make her an anatomically correct orthotic based on calm musculature to support her mandible and prevent further locking and muscular splinting.
The patient said we “saved” her life and was so thankful that we not only helped her but were also willing to help her during these uncertain times.
COVID-19 spreads from person to person, similar to previous strains of coronavirus like MERS and SARS. This transmission occurs through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply breathes, just as influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. Besides wearing the most effective masks to protect ourselves, what else could we do to reduce airborne pathogens?
We purchased an air filtration system that destroys these airborne viruses and improves the overall air quality in our entire office. With the public fears and realities around COVID-19, we have intentionally marketed this system, along with our updated PPE, to our patients and the public through e-newsletters and social media with the goal of letting them know we are investing in their health and actively finding ways to improve office safety for their comfortable, healthy return. We have even placed signs in our office letting our patients know that their health is our top priority and that they have entered a “surgically clean air office.”
Enhanced Safety Protocols
We have always focused on providing personalized and comprehensive treatment in our office. Having fewer patients but doing the optimal amount of dentistry is preferred by our office as well as by most patients once they are educated about the benefits of a better result and fewer visits to the dentist.
Time has always been valuable to our patients, but I believe it will become even more important in our post-COVID-19 world. We are going to educate patients that fewer people in the office and fewer visits to the office increases everyone’s safety, and that’s another reason why comprehensive treatment is in their best interest.
With enhanced disinfection and patient care protocols, we will allot time for our team to properly treat our patients and disinfect operatories to the next level of standards post-COVID-19. Patients will have their temperatures checked upon entering the practice, they will perform a peroxide rinse prior to treatment, and our team will be required to “spray, wipe, spray” and allow 10 minutes before the next patient. Proper scheduling will support these enhanced safety methods.
The dental world has changed drastically because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will continue to change as we learn more. When new regulations and safety guidelines are announced, we plan to already be in full compliance—and then some. How about your practice?
Dr. Haddad is a graduate of the Las Vegas Institute. He performs complex restorative and cosmetic dentistry and treats TMJ and sleep disorders. He lectures nationally on TMJ and sleep disorders, cosmetic full mouth reconstruction, and practice management. To learn more, visit discoverdh.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.