State Releases Guidance for Dentist Offices to Reopen for Non-Emergency Work

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Gov. Ned Lamont's office has released guidelines to help dentist offices looking to reopen for non-emergency operations.

The guidance was developed with a group made up of public health professionals, dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants.

Dentist offices are considered essential and were never ordered to close, but many closed to non-essential work when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised them to limit practice to emergency and urgent dental care as the coronavirus pandemic intensified.

As some businesses prepare to reopen on May 20, some dentist offices are looking to restart non-essential services such as cleanings.

The 13 pages of guidance released Monday outline a series of steps dentist offices are encouraged to take, broken down into six categories - Planning and Preparation, Physical Space Setup, Health Screening, Work Practice Controls, Personal Protective Equipment, and Cleaning and Disinfecting.

Employees are encouraged to stay home if they experience any symptoms of COVID-19, and patients should be pre-screened no more than 24 hours before their appointment.

Recommendations for PPE vary depending on job function, with the strictest recommendations being for those working in or around aerosol-generating procedures. The use of N95 respirators and surgical masks and full face shields and goggles are recommended for anyone providing clinical care, among other PPE including gloves and gowns or specific work clothing.

Several dental hygienists have reached out to NBC Connecticut expressing concerns about the reopening and questioning how the industry can safely operate.

“Everyone has to get back to work and I understand that as well. But to me it’s just not safe," said Nicole Lupachino, a registered dental hygienist.

Lupachina is still concerned about going back to work, even after the release of new state guidance today.

“The guidelines spell out all the safety measures that a patient will recognize, explained Dr. Tam Le.

Le is president of the Connecticut State Dental Association, which was part of a group that came up with 13 pages of best practices.

Also taking part was the Department of Public Health and the Connecticut Dental Hygienists’ Association, which Marie Paulis is part of.

“What it boils down to if the PPE isn’t there then offices aren’t going to be able to open. So that’s what I can tell people. I know it’s a scary situation but that is why the guidance is there to try and ensure their safety," Paulis said.

Le said even with the proper PPE dentists should judge the comfort of the entire team before resuming other types of care.

The guidelines also stress the need to clean and disinfect, particularly between patients, and encourage specific training and roles for staff to make sure the appropriate cleaning of spaces and equipment. They also encourage posted signage that addresses the changes made as a reminder to both staff and patients.

Basic social distancing, like keeping chairs in the waiting room six feet or more apart or asking patients to wait in cars, are also strongly recommended.

Offices that cannot fully meet the recommendations are asked to consider staying closed to non-emergency work until they can meet them. The state also noted that no COVID-19 positive patients should be seeking non-essential care, and encourage dentists to consult with medical professionals on how to treat any emergencies in COVID-19 positive patients.

Lupachino said she thinks non-essential dental services can wait until later in the reopening process.

“If you can’t go to the bar, if you can’t to a restaurant, you shouldn’t be able to get your teeth cleaned.”

Read the full list of guidelines below.

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