Working In A Dental Office During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Last Updated on November 3, 2021 by Anna Baumann

When I started my dental career, amalgam was still cool and Hipaa wasn’t even a word. I’m as old as film and paper charts, and I’m here to tell you that working in a dental office during the covid-19 pandemic is a whole new ballgame. It has impacted every position and system in the office.

Once we were given the green light to open up after quarantine, it was a mixed bag of emotions. We either felt blessed to have a job to go back to, or we were so afraid of getting the virus that we didn’t return.

If you were one of those who decided not to come back, no judgement. I was almost one of you. But when I saw all of the precautions that my boss was taking to keep us and our patients safe, I knew I had to at least give it a try. Here is a rundown on what we’ve changed, and an update on how we’re doing post quarantine.

Covid-19 office changes

We’ve enclosed the front desk in plexiglass. This is my favorite change, and we should have done it years ago! People have been rudely forcing their germs on us front deskers for way too long. Even if they remember to cover their sneezes and coughs, they still think it’s okay to breath all over us. What is up with that?! Why can’t they schedule an appointment or make a payment without taking a deep breath and blowing it out all over the place? Now we don’t have to worry about it because their stinky breath is trapped behind a big wall of plexiglass. I also love that everyone is wearing a mask. It keeps them from licking their fingers to get traction on their credit cards, cash and checks before handing them over.

We’ve got plasma air purifiers and UV lights in the operatories. The air purifiers mitigate the aerosols created by everything we do, and the UV lights kill whatever is left over. The purifiers run all day, and the lights go on in between patients. Since we’re not supposed to look directly at it, either doors or shades have been added to the doorways.

Large signs are posted on the doors that enter into the office. They are there to limit office capacity and encourage social distancing. The first noticeable thing on most of them is a big, red STOP sign. Ours also has a short message stating that you must call or text the office before you enter. Most of the time the signs work great. Although we have found that we have an alarming number of patients who don’t know how to read.

Covid-19 clinical changes

The clinical team went from wearing gloves and level 3 masks, to looking like something out of the movie Outbreak. Now they put on their gloves and don N95 masks covered, with level 3 masks, covered with face shields. Then they’ve added hair coverings, disposable gowns and shoe coverings. Getting it all on and off properly took some practice. They’ve got a system down now but all that extra gear is hot! Our office thermostat setting went from cold, to meat locker.

Hygienists have either gone back to full on hand scaling, or they’re learning to use a high speed suction. There are a few new ones out there that make it easy to retract and suction at the same time without an Assistant. It’s kind of nice actually because we never thought of looking into these things until we had to.

Covid-19 check-in changes

Checking in a patient for a dental appointment used to be pretty simple and straight forward. They tell the Receptionist who they are. The Receptionist checks them in, and the patient sits down to wait. Ah, the good ole days!

Patients must now complete a wellness form shortly before every appointment, so we can stop them from coming in if they’re sick or have possibly been exposed to the virus. In our office, those that receive text messages get a link to the form and submit it through. Otherwise we have to call them to ask the questions at least two hours before their appointment. Once the forms are either submitted or completed manually, we have to review and upload them into the patient’s chart.

When the patient arrives for their appointment, they call or text the front desk to let them know. Of course this rarely coincides with anyone being ready to see them. So we have to make a return call or text to get them to come in. Then once they’re in the door, temperatures have to be taken and recorded.

The moral of the story

Clinical staff is in short supply. It wasn’t easy to walk back into the office and start working again. A lot of us chose not to return. Dental practices all over the country are severely short staffed. Which hasn’t helped while we’ve been catching up on three months worth of appointments.

Checking in patients is a whole separate job. We really need another team member just to handle all of the steps involved. I’m seeing offices hiring for ‘Dental Patient Concierge’ and ‘Patient Check-in Coordinator’. But finding anyone who wants to actually leave their house to work around people now is a challenge.

We’re struggling financially. We’ve had to lengthen appointments. Otherwise there’s not enough time for doning and doffing PPE, and for the UV light to do it’s germ killing thing. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge. Longer appointments means we see fewer patients. So we’re producing less while spending more on PPE, buying more stuff, and hiring more staff. Just like the restaurants and bars, a lot of Dentists won’t make it through this.

We’re still here! As high risk as our profession is, we have not become the ‘hot spot’ that everyone anticipated. We are staying safe and doing well! It’s been a huge expense. All of the extra steps are very distracting, and they’ve completely changed the way we do our jobs. But it’s all worth it because not only do we feel safe, we really are safe! PROPS to all of the Dentists out there who have bought all the stuff, and done all the things. You are our Pandemic Heroes!

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

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