Many heading back to dentists for first time since pandemic

Dentist offices putting equipment, procedures in place to protect patients, staff amid pandemic

Many people are making appointments to see their dentists for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 primarily spreads by aerosols released when people breathe or speak, so you can imagine being as close to someone’s mouth as you have to be in order to exam or clean someone’s teeth carries a certain risk of exposure.

And with uncertainties for both oral hygienists and patients, many people have not been visiting their dentist regularly.

But dental offices have gone above and beyond to ensure a safe return for everyone, as oral health is important for overall bodily health.

Like many people, Donna Hanna, a Canton resident, was hesitant to go to the grocery store, let alone a doctor or dentist amid the pandemic.

For the last 20 years, Hanna says she has visited the dentist to get her teeth cleaned every three or four months -- but COVID changed her routine. She said she put off going to the dentist for more than one year because of the pandemic.

Southfield Periodontist Dr. Joseph Nemeth says he has never seen anything like it in his more than 50 years in the field. He says his office was closed except for emergencies for months.

But now, patients are starting to visit their dentists again -- which Nemeth says important, because oral health is vital.

“The patients gradually did come back, so now we are fully busy as we had been previously,” Nemeth said.

Part of the reason that patients like Hanna feel comfortable returning is because of the precautions that dentist offices have put into place.

“All of our staff that has been in direct contact, clinical staff, has been vaccinated -- even though it is not required,” Nemeth said. “We have special filtration systems that are in the offices, so that when we’re doing work on the patient, ... the air in that area is just suctioned away, so there is no aerosol; there’s no air contamination. We have another air system that is cleaning the air more thoroughly.”

Related: Is it safe to visit the dentist during the pandemic?

Staff at dentist offices are also donning enhanced personal protective equipment, protecting themselves and those near them from the spread of germs.

“They’re so protected that they look like they’re in spacesuits,” Hanna said. “But it made me feel comfortable that they were protected. Everything in the office looked like it had changed to be more protective of the patient and the staff.”

Nemeth says the protections put in place amid the pandemic are going to be permanent. The devices and protocols in place will continue to protect patients and staff even beyond the pandemic, he said.

Those who have been putting off any kind of dental or medical care or encouraged to get it taken care of as soon as possible. Although there may be another wave of COVID hitting Michigan and the nation, medical offices have put precautions into place for the patients’ safety.

Related: High trust in doctors, nurses in US, AP-NORC poll finds

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.