March 01, 2021
The coronavirus pandemic had a global impact on every aspect of life. Schools were closed, work became remote, and businesses had to implement safety protocols. Among all these changes, the protocols in the healthcare industry underwent the biggest changes of all.
Since healthcare institutions are the place where the risk of disease transmission is the highest, these institutions had to implement all the needed safety and precautionary measures to protect both patients and healthcare personnel. So where do dental clinics stand in the middle of these changes?
The Risk of Spreading COVID-19 in Dentistry
Before we can outline what dental clinics do to control the transmission of the virus, it’s worthy to point out the significant risk that COVID-19 imposes through dental clinics. COVID-19 is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2; a virus that’s mainly transmitted through the air. The virus can spread from one person to another through the respiratory droplets of an infected person. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks, the droplets can leave their bodies and get suspended in the air. Anyone who gets into direct contact with the patient or is present within a 6 feet diameter can easily contract the virus and get infected as a result.
As you can imagine, this significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission in settings like dental clinics, where the main focus is to work inside a patient’s open mouth. Although dentists are well-versed in controlling the transmission of blood-borne diseases, controlling air-borne diseases is somewhat uncharted territory for most dentists. That’s why they’ve started implementing new protocols to limit the spread of this pandemic.
How Dental Clinics Can Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission
In order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, dental clinics all around the globe are taking the following precautionary measures:
1. Screening Patients before Appointments
The first thing dental clinics are doing is to screen their patients before setting appointments. Scheduling appointments have been limited to calling in advance rather than booking in person. During the phone call, patients are inquired about their health status, whether they’ve shown any recent symptoms of cold or flu-like infections, and if they’ve traveled abroad recently. Once they’re cleared, they’re briefed about social distancing, the necessity of wearing masks, and hygiene protocols they’ll need to abide by once they enter the clinic.
2. Preparing the Patient for Entry
Once the patient arrives, the first thing they’ll be asked to do is to be disinfected. While some dental clinics request the patients to put on shoe cover before entering the clinic, others use a shoe sole sanitizer to disinfect the shoes. This sanitizer uses UV technology to complete the disinfection process, which is 99% effective in killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Next, they’re asked to fill a questionnaire about their health to determine whether they’re infected.
3. Sanitation, Hygiene, and Disinfection Measures
Patients showing symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to reschedule their appointments, but dentists keep in mind that some SARS-CoV-2 carriers may be completely asymptomatic.
For that reason, they implement strict measures to maintain sanitation and hygiene. These measures include reinforced hand hygiene, regular surface and equipment disinfection, and wearing personal protective equipment.
4. Reducing Oral Aerosols and Droplets
The most concerning risk of COVID-19 transmission in dental settings comes from the suspended droplets. What makes the risk of transmission even worse is that the regular use of aerosols can aid the extended suspension of these particles. To reduce aerosol and droplets, dental clinics abandon or replace techniques that depend on using droplets, switch to four-hand discipline, use high-volume evacuation with a larger diameter suction tip, and use rubber dams to minimize or prevent contamination.
5. Proper Ventilation
Regardless of well dental clinics try to reduce droplets, they can never eliminate them completely. Since any renegade droplets may be able to stay suspended in the air for hours, applying proper ventilation is of the utmost necessity. Applying proper ventilation is not only necessary to reduce COVID-19 transmission; there are more than 38 different types of pathogens and microorganisms dispersed in the air of dental clinics. To properly control the transmission of all air-borne diseases, dental clinics use air purifiers with HEPA technology, install strong fans, disinfect equipment using UV light after every patient, and use antiviral disinfectant sprays. If possible, they can also use negative pressure rooms.
Dental clinics have years of expertise in controlling the transmission of blood-borne diseases, but the same can’t be said for air-borne diseases. Although it’s a relatively new area, dental clinics around the globe are implementing strict protocols to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. By implementing these changes, they’re ensuring the health of both patients and healthcare providers.