While it may be harder to see each other’s smiles all the time these days, dental care is still viewed as necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. As noted by ADA past president Chad P. Gehani, DDS, “Oral health is integral to overall health—staying well depends on having access to health care, which includes dental treatment.”
Because many dental procedures can produce aerosol droplets that may spread viruses like COVID-19, dental procedures cannot happen without personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly during a pandemic. Recent events have shown that PPE is very much in demand and upgraded PPE design and features are necessary, with this gear likely to be needed for the foreseeable future.
For dental healthcare personnel, traditional masks alone are not enough, according to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends additional protection to “ensure the eyes, nose, and mouth are all protected from exposure to respiratory secretions during patient care encounters, including those where splashes and sprays are not anticipated.”
The ADA is in alignment with the CDC and has also provided guidance on the use of face shields or goggles along with masks. But not all PPE, including non-surgical face shields, is created equal. Dental healthcare personnel who depend on PPE daily should evaluate what products provide the best design and comfort. Additional factors such as manufacturing availability and quality are also very important, though they are often overlooked.
Design Fit for a Dental Professional
Researchers from the University of Iowa and the Iowa City VA Healthcare System published a report in JAMA noting that face shields could offer benefits not just in high risk areas, but also as a component of the strategy to stop community spread.
But for face shields to offer optimal protection, the authors stated that “the shield should extend below the chin anteriorly, to the ears laterally, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.” With this design, the researchers said, a face shield can also prevent wearers from touching their face.
Most standard, ubiquitous face shields have a headband with a thin piece of plastic that hangs down in front of the face, and they were not designed to meet the criteria described above. While face shields can be made inexpensively, the typical design is flawed because it can allow droplets to escape and enter through gaps between the face and the shield.
However, some recently released face shields such as those offered by Jamestown Plastics were designed in conjunction with medical professionals to ensure that the gaps were covered with a design that has a flanged perimeter that extends from ear to ear, under the chin and over the forehead.
Comfort and Customization for All-Day Wear
Considering that face shields need to be worn for extended periods of time throughout the day, there is a premium on comfort. Newer, innovative face shields such as TrueHero Extreme Coverage are made of medical-grade PETG so they are extremely durable as well as lightweight and appropriate for all-day wear.
Hook-and-loop straps provide a secure fit and infinite adjustability, while closed-cell foam padding lines the forehead for additional protection and comfort. Additionally, these shields can be worn with other glasses comfortably without causing fogging in the line of sight.
Investing in a high-quality face shield can provide both all-day comfort and long-term use. Unlike disposable face shields that are replaced daily or even with each patient, reusable face shields can provide convenience and long-term cost savings. With proper care and cleaning, a quality face shield can be used for many weeks, resulting in a low per-day cost of use. In addition, a reusable shield is also more environmentally friendly than disposable shields.
Many Made Here in the USA
In the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, there were reports each day about the shortage of PPE, including face shields. Many healthcare providers and dental professionals could not practice routinely without PPE. In emergency situations, they had to improvise. Part of the issue was that the products, most of which were made overseas, could not get here as travel and businesses shut down and everyone raced to find supply.
Noble efforts by companies to help were important and got many over the initial hurdle, but it would be a good opportunity now to consider the best way to prepare for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic (however long it may be) and for future needs.
One way is to use suppliers that fully manufacture in the United States while also having the capacity to supply the volume needed without significant delays in manufacturing or shipping. These companies should have a history of manufacturing materials for a range of industries and trusted organizations. This will help to ensure quality and consistency of crucial PPE products, timeliness, and fair pricing.
Protecting Practitioners and Patients with PPE
The dental industry never stops innovating and is full of advanced technology that can improve patient well-being and comfort. However, it is also important to value practitioner comfort, safety, and well-being, particularly when it comes to something as critical as PPE.
Mr. Baker is CEO of Jamestown Plastics Inc, an ISO-certified company that has been in business since 1958. It has decades of expertise in plastics manufacturing for some of the top medical device and consumer companies in the world.