Texas Governor Greg Abbott has announced that dental practices in the state can reopen on Friday, May 1. The Texas Dental Association (TDA), however, says that practices that do decide to reopen should exercise caution and follow suggested safety guidelines.
In his April 27 executive order, Abbott authorized the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) to create emergency rules to establish minimum standards for safe practice during the pandemic. All licensed healthcare professionals must then comply with these rules.
The TSBDE has since formally approved emergency rules and guidelines in response to the executive order. These rules and guidelines must be approved by the governor, and the TDA says that it will immediately notify its membership once he makes his decision.
According to these rules and guidelines, all dental practices must create procedures including a patient pre-schedule screening protocol, an in-office screening protocol for patients and personnel, office transmission-based infection control precautions, and a protocol for when personnel suspect exposure to COVID-19.
Also, practices must train personnel in COVID-19 office procedures and adhere to CDC standard precautions regarding hand hygiene, personal protective equipment use, respiratory hygiene and etiquette, sharps safety, safe injection practices, device and instrument sterilization, and surface cleaning and disinfection.
When possible, personnel should implement transmission-based precautions including N95 respirator masks for all personnel who will be within 6 feet of any and all procedures likely to involve aerosols. In N95 respirators aren’t available, surgical masks and eye protection with a face shield should be used.
The TDA provided the TSBDE Committee on Dental practice with feedback in advance of its meeting. It included recommendations that the committee adopt TDA guidelines presented to Abbot and his Strike Force including adoption of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), infectious disease control, and office protocols.
“The TDA respectively but aggressively advocated for safely reopening Texas dental practices so patients may safely receive the care they need,” said Charles W. Miller, DDS, MS, TDA president. “Your TDA team worked directly with the governor, his top executives, top members of the Strike Force team, lawmakers, lawmakers’ staff, and many others to accomplish this important goal.”
Miller noted that the order does not force practices to reopen. Also, he said, dentists are the head of the dental team and must exercise professional judgment in deciding to reopen. Practices that do reopen should strictly adhere to PPE requirements and COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines. Further, Miller said, the TDA is offering reopening guidelines and is promoting the ADA’s interim return to work toolkit.
“As we enter this new phase together, TDA continues to focus on you, the member dentist, and your patients. Safety is an absolute priority with everything TDA has pursued and everything we will continue to pursue,” Miller said. “Now more than ever, this is a time to come together, work together, and to get back to what we do best, which is to care for Texas dental patients and change their lives.”