B.C.’s dentists will not be returning to practice May 19 as had been assumed after Premier John Horgan announced the provincial government’s BC Restart Plan on May 6.
“Full dental services, including hygiene care, will be introduced gradually and when it is safe to do so,” the BC Dental Association (BCDA) said May 14.
Then, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said as-yet-unpublished guidelines for safe restarts of multiple sectors including dentistry are being worked on.
Part of that work means plans to protect patients, dentists and staff need to be aligned to manage COVID-19 risks. However, there also remains a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with.
“Dental teams are experts at infection control, and dentists want to ensure their practices are appropriately set up to comply with physical distancing and other particular requirements to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” BCDA spokesperson Dr. Alastair Nicoll said.
To this point in the pandemic, dentists have been limited to tele-dentistry and emergency care.
The College of Dental Surgeons of BC strongly recommended March 16 that all elective and non-essential dental services be suspended to contain community spread of the virus. A week later, Henry issued a letter to all regulated health professionals outlining her expectations for their response in the acute phase of the pandemic.
Those two requirements together meant dentists could only treat urgent dental emergencies in their offices.
When dentists once again have patients in their chairs, more urgent needs will come before backlogs and routine cleanings.
Further, patients can expect physical changes to offices, association documents show. Chairs, magazines and toys will be removed from waiting rooms. The receptionist may be behind a plexiglass screen.
Dentists had been a concern early in the pandemic after the March 6-7 Pacific Dental Conference where 32 people were infected.
Henry confirmed March 24 that the self-isolation period for conference attendees was over. She said all 32 affected attendees and their immediate contacts had been contacted.
The association cautions that to provide emergency dental treatment safely, dentists and their staff must have appropriate PPE including specially fitted masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves.
The association said due to shortages, patients with dental pain, swelling, infection or trauma must first be assessed by their local general practice dentist over the phone.
“To reduce the risk of transmission, only the most urgent dental cases will be referred to an appropriately equipped dental clinic for treatment,” the association said.