June 20, 2022
Two years ago, one after another, countries around the world enforced exceptional measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures consisted in restrictions such as self-isolation, curfews, travel restrictions and, in several cases, the closure of businesses considered to be non-essential during the emergency period. Although the specific measures adopted to restrict the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus differed from country to country, they were all based on the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, which, as we know, declared pandemic status on 11 March 2020. It comes as no surprise that, in many cases, dental surgeries were among the businesses subject to restrictions. As the pathogenic agent is transmitted between humans by means of droplets and direct contact between infected material and the oral, nasal and ocular mucosae, dentistry is often defined a field “at high risk of transmission”. From this perspective, there are many factors to be taken into consideration, including the limited distance between the patient’s mouth and the dental staff, the time the COVID-19 virus remains in suspended aerosols and the fact that the various accessories used in dental surgeries, from scalers to syringes, also generate aerosols.
At last we can say, with duly cautious optimism, that we are nearing the end of this long health emergency. However, it is interesting and informative to look back at the measures adopted to prevent COVID-19 in the world of dentistry and appraise the results obtained.
The measures implemented by dentists during the pandemic: from disinfection upwards
In many countries, the first measure introduced to contain the spread of the virus in dental practices was to reduce treatments to a minimum by postponing any non-urgent appointments. Having reduced the number of patients present in practices - by cancelling appointments and scheduling them to reduce the presence of more than one patient in the waiting room - further measures were adopted to make treatment rooms safe for both patients and dental staff. Conventional facemasks were replaced by FFP2 and FFP3 facemasks, and even more stringent protocols were adopted for the cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation of the facilities and instruments used. On the one hand, for example, there was an increase in the use of disposable instruments; on the other, additional measures were adopted for disinfection and sanitisation, using dental instrument disinfectants characterised by high quality standards in compliance with the most recent international regulations (as is the case, for example, of the dental instrument disinfectants and sterilisation products from Zhermack’s Zeta Hygiene range).
Survey results demonstrate the effectiveness of the anti-COVID protocols adopted in dental practices
As mentioned previously, at the beginning of the health emergency, dental practices were included amongst the locations at highest risk of infection. The adoption of new hygiene and disinfection protocols, on top of a set of already very stringent protocols (that had been improved in previous years to protect patients from infection by other viruses, such as HIV), made it possible to make dental practices particularly safe. For instance, a report presented by the National Board of Spanish Dentists claimed that, 8 months after the start of the pandemic, the risk of infection for dental practitioners was lower than in any other healthcare sector. Moreover, a report published by the Italian National Institute for Insurance Against Accidents at Work in October 2020 stated that, in Italy, at the end of September 2020, there were no reports of COVID-19 infection amongst dental practice employees, and the American Dental Association identified an infection rate of under 1% in the dental health sector.
The data obtained from studies carried out in several countries therefore confirm the effective safety of dental clinics and practices. As mentioned previously, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the starting point was a particularly careful context, characterised by a physiological vocation for prevention and consequently a wide range of sanitisation, sterilisation and disinfection processes and the like. The post-pandemic dental profession has further honed these particular characteristics and it is no coincidence that it is increasingly recognised as a model to be followed from a safety and prevention perspective.