The Challenges of Re-opening a Practice During a Global Pandemic
Since lockdown began on the 23rd March, shops, businesses and dental services across the UK remained closed to help contain the spread of Covid-19. This left many dentists having to shut their doors completely whilst still attempting to treat their patients over the phone or via video calls to provide much needed advice for emergency cases – even prescribing analgesics and antibiotics where required.
Then, with effect from the 8th June, dental practices in England were given the go-ahead to re-open, providing they adhere to appropriate social distancing and put into place the necessary safety measures – no small order as it turns out – and 70% of surgeries were left feeling unable to re-open on that date.
But at The Essex Smile Centre dentist in Rayleigh, we were ready to go and happy to welcome back our lovely patients. In fact, we had been working extensively behind the scenes since the day we first entered lockdown to comply with all necessary safety regulations. We have invested in the latest technology, reviewed all working practices and trained all staff in these new procedure in order to keep our patients and our colleagues safe.
All of these measures can be consulted in the extensive policy document we produced in June 2020 entitled: Post-Lockdown Re-Opening Policy.
With so many health and safety guidelines and protocols to adhere to, what are the challenges facing practices as they try to re-open and begin treating patients again?
Many dentists already owned a good stock of PPE equipment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, however a lot of practices gave it away, donating their supply to local hospitals, hospices and medical centres who were in desperate need. Acquiring new and suitable PPE was a challenge for practices looking to re-open, especially with it being in such high demand.
Some of the PPE and hygiene products required includes;
- Face shields
- Hand sanitising stations
- Perspex screens for reception areas
- Air purifiers
- Single use chair covers
- Suction systems
- Single using dental supplies
When you visit the Essex Smile Centre, our dentists and staff will now be wearing gloves, gowns, masks and face shields. We also require that patients wear masks whilst moving around the practice.
Please note that unlike some other practices who are enforcing surcharges of up to £40 per patient, we are not passing on our investment in new PPE equipment. All we ask it that you bring your own face mask. If you do not have one, purchase one from us for £2.00 and we will donate 50% to an NHS charity.
Hygiene and Cleaning
Dental surgeries will now require more frequent, thorough cleaning, not just at the end of the day or once a week but in between appointments. Regular deep cleans of the practice will be required and some may even include UV-light cleaners.
Consideration must be taken for how long a room will need to be left or how long a gap is needed between patients to ensure that any airborne particles have fully dispersed. As a practice, we have invested in new air circulation for our rooms, which ensures that the air is drawn out and recycled up to 10 times per hour. Patients will also notice a new machine alongside to their chair. These chairside suction units allow us to undertake aerosol generating procedures safely, without causing long surgery down time, as they capture the particles released during these procedures and push them through a 4 -layer filtration system of Hepa Filters and UV lights, killing 99.9% of all viruses.
These significant investments helped ensure Essex Smile Centre was ready to open at the first opportunity and is helping us work through our backlog of patients more quickly.
Waiting and Arriving for Appointments
Where possible, dentists are trying to accommodate patients inside their waiting rooms, whilst enforcing social distancing. However, most will require that patients wait in their car or outside until their appointment time in order to avoid unnecessary crowding and help stagger arrivals. This is proving difficult when it comes to small children or the elderly and each practice will have to do their best to provide care for patients whilst maintaining the necessary health and safety protocols.
At the Essex Smile Centre, we have introduced a ‘buddy nurse’ system to welcome our patients prior to their appointment and see them out afterwards. This is helping to ensure our patients can wait comfortably within the practice.
There will be very few dentists if any, that are able to offer patients their full range of treatments at present. Instead, they are attempting to prioritise patients in need of urgent care, treatment or check-ups.
Whilst practices focus on clearing the backlog and catching up on missed appointments, non-urgent or cosmetic treatments such as whitening and veneers will not be available. There are also restrictions on AGP’s or ‘aerosol generating procedures’ which can cause airborne particles that then remain on surfaces, people or equipment. This means that dentists will need to refrain from carrying out these types of treatments where possible, but if it is unavoidable then additional safety measures, cleaning and PPE will need to be adhered to.
Fortunately, dentists at the Essex Smile Centre can carry out whitening treatments, composite bonding and even veneers thanks to the new investments we have made and the safety procedures we have adopted.
Dental staff will need to be closely monitored and their temperatures checked daily. But it’s not only the health and wellbeing of the employees that dental surgeries need to consider, childcare is causing real issues for working parents and employers throughout the UK, especially as it nears the summer holidays where all schools will be closed for several weeks. This will require clear communication and planning with employees to help plan rotas and staff schedules in a way that works for everyone.
So what should you do if you need treatment now?
Although dentists are keen to help and see as many patients as they can, there are long waits for appointments whilst they try to work through the inevitable back log whilst adhering to health and safety guidelines and regulations. Some practices will only be able to see a third of the amount of daily patients they would usually see.
If you are in need of help from a dentist, then follow the advice below;
- Contact your dentist first to enquire about an appointment. They should be able to offer advice on waiting times and help you ascertain the next steps to getting you seen.
- If you are unable to get in touch with your dentist and your problem becomes a life-threatening emergency, e.g. airway restriction, vision changes, rapidly increased swelling around the throat or eye – then contact 111 immediately to seek professional medical advice and access emergency attention.
- Swelling, prolonged heavy bleeding, dental trauma without loss of consciousness, a broken tooth causing severe pain or a severe toothache could all warrant an emergency appointment so be sure to contact your dentist straight away.
- If you are experiencing minor toothache, lost fillings, orthodontic issues or something that isn’t causing significant discomfort then get in touch with your dentist who may be able to offer over the phone advice or even a video consultation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected thousands of dental surgeries and millions of patients all over the UK. But, with a little bit of time and a lot of patience and hard work, dentists and patients can work together to ensure that we get back on track.
Read about our new procedures
To consult our Post-Lockdown Re-Opening Policy document, please click here. We do hope you’ll be reassured by the information contained within and feel safe when attending our practice.