Vermont dentists awaiting state guidance to reopen

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 4:46 PM EDT
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As Governor Phil Scott continues to reopen sectors of the Vermont economy, many business sectors have been given guidance on how when to operate. But dentists have so far been left out of plans to turn the spigot.

Reopening offices has become a bit of a waiting game for Vermont's dentists. "It's making our job a little bit difficult as far as deciding which path to go down," said Dr. Tyler Aten, a dentist in South Burlington.

His office is open for emergency procedures, using face shields, N95 masks, booties, gowns, and air filters to stay safe. "I would hope that we can come up with some clear guidance that can tell us exactly how we can see patients as safely as possible. Even if it's at a reduced capacity, I think that's fine at this point."

There may be no profession that raises a greater challenge with COVID contamination, working in patients mouths where the virus is so easily spread. Part of the problem is that there have been no concrete guidelines released on safety procedures. The Vermont State Dental Society in conjunction with OSHA, the CDC and the Board of Dental Examiners has come up with eight pages of guidance to submit to the Office of Professional Regulation, and later the Department of Health.

"The guidelines are trying to get us as dentists ready to go back and reopen our office in a safe way considering the COVID-19 pandemic," said the Dental Society's Thomas Opsahl.

Those recommendations include reduced waiting room capacity, pre-visit screening, and temperatures taken on arrival. But they're concerned that their recommendations will be lost in translation. "We want to be certain that the information that goes from the dentists represents truly what we have learned through science, through the compiling of much data from many states," Opsahl said.

Specifics aside, the importance of personal protection equipment is not up for debate, but in a time when resources are slim, there's concern about access to N95 masks and other PPE needed to safely operate. "Our state government has not really made it clear. As a matter of a fact, I believe they've been quite specific in saying we're not going to be able to help you," Opsahl said.

The access to that PPE is echoed by many dentists, and hygienists, as well.

"I think the primary concern would be the access to adequate personal protection equipment. PPE is going to be a little bit more intense with the new guidelines. Not knowing exactly what the guidelines are adds a whole other level to it," said Erica Gates with the Vermont Dental Hygienists Association.

That leaves dentists to finance their own personal protection equipment, an investment that many fear will trickle down to the patient and impact affordability.

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