Dentist offices remain ‘extremely safe’ during coronavirus pandemic

Cesareo Contreras
| MetroWest Daily News

ASHLAND –  More than nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, many local businesses are still struggling to get by. But for Dr. Sandra Cove, who owns a dental office at 37 Main St., business has been great.  

“People are knocking the door down,” she said. 

The anxiety of the pandemic is weighing down on many. And that is often reflected on oral health, Cove said.

It’s not uncommon for Cove to see people around the holidays come in with problems, given the stress during this time of year. She is seeing patients with major dental issues at a rate she has never seen in her career. 

From cavities and inflamed gums to chipped and infected teeth, the issues are various.  

“We have this phenomenon in dentistry. Whenever people are under a lot of stress, a lot crazy things happen – a lot of root canals and broken teeth,” she said. “A lot of this stuff happens around Christmas time and Thanksgiving and it only lasts for a week or two, but this going on for six months, where every day, I must have two or three broken teeth due to stress or people gums are completely on fire because they are overreacting to the bacteria because their defenses are down.” 

Dr. MaryJane Hanlon, president of the Massachusetts Dental Society, said she isn’t surprised by number of patients Cove has seen with new and serious dental problems.  

“Sandra, I know, is very busy, and many practices are busy,” she said. “Some practices never slowed down. They saw a lot of emergency care. … The bottom line is that we are seeing a breakdown because people were very concerned about going to the dentist. ” 

While some dental offices are doing well, others have been hit hard.  

Hanlon is the dean of operations at Tufts University and manages all of the school’s clinical operations. Unlike Cove, she said she has seen a decline in the number of people visiting the clinic. Before the pandemic, the college would see around 600 people a day. Now they are seeing half of that. 

In June, the association conducted a survey to better understand how dental offices in the state were faring during the pandemic. The survey was taken by more than 400 dental practice owners. 

More than half of responders said they expect it to take between seven months to over a year to get the number of patients they had before the pandemic hit. 

Nearly 90% of dental practices are spending between $8 – $29 or greater per patient on personal protective equipment, according to survey. 

Moreover, more than half or respondents said the pandemic has cost their practice $225,000 in office upgrades and loss in patients. 

Cove said she thinks a big reason why people are coming to her office is because they feel reassured that the appropriate measures are in place to keep them safe from the coronavirus. 

After the start of pandemic in March, Cove didn’t reopen until early July with a number of new safety measures in place. She said she waited to take note of what other dental practices had done before implementing new measures of her own. 

Everyone on her staff wears n95 masks, while hepa filters and exhaust fans are use to circulate the air. And between each patient a disinfect fogger is used to help get rid of any virus particles floating in the air. She also keeps the windows in her office open to let out the air. 

Cove wears a face mask and protective suit and sprays herself down with disinfect between every patient.

Both Hanlon and Cove said they understand why some people may be wary about going to the dentist during the pandemic, but stressed the importance of regular checkups and making an appointment when experiencing prolonged tooth discomfort. 

Hanlon said patients should also be reassured that dental offices have put in the proper measures to keep patients safe. A recent study conducted by the American Dental Association that found that less than 1 percent of dentists nationwide have tested positive for the virus. 

“That’s what people need to understand,” she said. “It’s extremely safe to go the dentist.” 

Cove said dentist offices are used to controlling infections from spreading in their offices. Both dentists and dental hygienists wore masks and gloves during an appointment before the pandemic started and devices would be disposed of or thoroughly cleaned between each patient. 

“We practice this every day – infection control,” she said. “We’ve gone through aids, Hepatis B, Hepatis C.  Every day we have to combat these viruses. We’re used to it,” she said. “It’s just a little more we have to do.”

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