After a two-month hiatus, dental practices can now reopen their doors — with a few stipulations.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the reopening of the state’s dental industry during a press conference Friday. The major limitation on the reopening is that procedures that generate aerosols — which includes much of what dentists do, such as polishing, drilling and the use of high-speed handpieces — will not be allowed until June 1.
Dentistry has been identified as one of the highest-risk professions for contracting Covid-19, both because of the germ-spreading aerosols and because of the more general close-contact nature of the work.
By June, Levine said that the state’s dental community believes it will have the skills, protocols and personal protective equipment necessary to safely resume its full range of services, including procedures involving aerosols.
He said the CDC has a series of defined phases for how states should be reopening. Vermont, he said, is “very comfortable” in phase 2, and that the reopening of dental services isn’t even mentioned in the CDC guidance until phase 3, which is a large part of why state officials are waiting a little longer to allow procedures that generate aerosols.
Levine said the reopening of these practices will be “closely monitored” to see if they have any significant impact on the virus.
Steve Rayes, a dentist and board member at the Vermont State Dental Society, said no one in the dental industry had heard or seen the guidance until it was announced at the press conference Friday. He said that left many of his peers scrambling to try to identify what the new rules would mean for them.
He said they were expecting slightly different guidelines based on what they thought were current CDC recommendations. However, new CDC guidance was released Thursday, and the state made its recommendations in line with those new rules.
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Rayes said the main source of confusion is that there’s some overlap between the new state and CDC recommendations and the rules of their governing board, the American Dental Association, and they’re trying to figure out what guidance applies where.
For instance, he said, for the past two months, dentists have been allowed to do procedures that generate aerosols if they are urgent or emergent, and they’re just looking to make sure that still stands in the coming week.
But regardless of a bit of scrambling to interpret the language in the new rules, Rayes said the state’s dentists are overwhelmingly ready to go back to work amidst the pandemic. He said they’ve had two months of urgent procedures that have allowed dentists to figure out how to adjust their practices to be as safe as possible while still doing their jobs.
Lauren Gulka, a pediatric dentist at Timberlane Dental, said for many dentists, it’s been extremely difficult to have to treat patients with tele-dentistry or prescription drugs who really should have just been coming in for procedures.
“We’re feeling anxiously excited to get back,” Gulka said. “We know a lot of people are going without access to dentistry, so we’re more concerned about our patients than anything.”
Rayes said because of the nature of the work, dentists have always had to be at the forefront of infection control, which makes him more confident they can manage the return to work safely.
But in general, Rayes said he feels like Gov. Phil Scott’s administration has handled the crisis well when it comes to what dentists have been allowed to do and when.
“Honestly it’s been impressive — and I come from a 20-year background in public health,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you, the way the current administration has been responding has been amazing — but it’s hard, and there’s not really a substitute to doing patient care in the office, and that’s what we’re all very anxious to get back to.”
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