State Reviewing Dental Office Guidelines; Says It Is Open to Further Guidance, Restrictions

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The Lamont Administration is meeting with dentists, hygienists and occupational safety experts to review guidelines for the reopening of dental offices, said David Lehman, the state's commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The meetings come after the state has received feedback from hygienists concerned about the safety of returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We've received a lot of feedback from hygienists in particular since Friday with concerns about returning to work," Lehman said.

The group of representatives from those stakeholder groups began convening yesterday under the Reopen CT Advisory Group's umbrella, Lehman said. The state is looking at if any additional guidance needs to be issued to dental offices before they reopen.

The team is scheduled to have its first meeting Wednesday, said Josh Geballe, the state's chief operating officer.

The group is looking "to make a determination -- what guidelines should be in place if we're going to start this now, should it be started later?," Lehman said.

Dentistry has been deemed essential by the state and has not been paused by an executive order.

"We never closed dentists' offices," Lamont said Tuesday.

The state has left up to the dental industry to determine what it deemed safe and essential, which did not include routine cleanings over the past month or so.

"For a long period of time, the dental association said 'we're not doing routine cleanings or non-emergency care', that's currently shifted from the ADA right now," Lehman said.

As part of the new protocols, offices will not be able to have more than one person in a waiting area at a given time, the governor said.

The state could at some point add a restriction against dental cleanings and other non-urgent care, Lehman said.

"If we change course, we would be adding a restriction," Lehman confirmed.

There is much confusion and concern among many in the profession.

“If we are going to go back this soon, we need to be ready,” said Danielle Gorman, a dental hygienist who works at offices in Bloomfield and Ellington.

Gorman, like many hygienists who reached out to NBC Connecticut, is worried about what next week will bring.

"We unfortunately cannot practice social distancing with our work,” Gorman said. “We're within three feet every time with every patient."   

Gorman is concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and about all of the personal protective equipment she and her colleagues will need just to be able to see a patient. She is worried that the supply of equipment may not be able to meet the demand.

“There is a shortage and I don’t know if we’ll all be able to get all of the necessary PPE that we need to do our job,” said Gorman.

Until any new guidance from the state is made clear, hygienists like Gorman and her patients will have questions about the next time in the dentist chair.

"One of my offices is on top of it; they've made me feel comfortable. I know that when I go in, my patients and I will be ready; we'll be safe,” said Gorman. “But again, that's not the same for every office and we're scared."

The governor's office said they are urging all health care providers to abide by the guidance from their professional associations and have the necessary PPE.

The Connecticut State Dental Association said dentists and dental offices should follow all American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines before opening doors for elective dental procedures.

“Dentists who have the appropriate screening, social distancing, PPE and infection control protocols in place should use their best judgement in resuming elective dental procedures,” said Dr. Tam Le, CSDA President.

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