A trip to the dentist may be anxiety provoking, especially for those overdue for a cleaning or filling since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a recent visit to the dentist, I experienced one who went above and beyond protocol requirements, using good practices and cutting-edge health technology to keep his staff and patients as safe and comfortable as possible in the pandemic.
I'm hyper-vigilant about COVID-19 safety, scanning crowded sidewalks and darting away from walkers who come too close for comfort and sheltering at home for most of my days since March. However, I’m not as good at keeping up with dentist appointments. But delaying my overdue visit could have resulted in the dreaded root canal, so I gathered my personal protective equipment (PPE) and awaited potential bad news, since I was one year late for my appointment.
My fear turned to relief as I found myself in “safety protocol heaven” upon arriving at Dr. Avi Stein’s office in Skokie, IL. After calling the office upon arrival as instructed, I received a COVID-19 questionnaire via text to ensure my good health and that only one person at a time would congregate in the reception area (the American Dental Association [ADA] suggests pre-screenings and a limited number of patients in the common areas).
An assistant took my temperature and used a pulse oximeter to obtain my vitals before I was walked into a private area for my cleaning.
“What’s that over there?” I asked as I cautiously seated myself in the dentist chair. I was further relieved to learn about a clean air purifying unit with HEPA filtration and UV filtration, which is “the most respected purifier brand in the medical dental industry based out of Canada,” Dr. Stein explained. This purifier circulates the air about 20 times an hour, depending on the size of the room. Each unit costs about $200 and requires upgrades and cleaning filters every six to 12 months.
Before initiating the cleaning, I rinsed with 2% hydrogen peroxide, which several studies have shown decreases the viral load in the mouth, according to the dentist.
The rooms were cleaned with a special fogging unit with hypochlorous acid, which settles on everything without leaving residue. The acid dries after 10 minutes and is aerosolized into about 50 parts per million particles. After the pre-fogging initial clean, the room is then sprayed and wiped down with a typical cleaning fluid. After this dries, the room is sprayed one more time with hypochlorous acid.
“The nooks and crannies are hard to get to with typical infection control wipes and solutions,” said Dr. Stein.
During the cleaning, an oil suction unit was placed close to my mouth to minimize any aerosol production.
“We've actually tested these, and I've run the high speed handpiece to see what it actually collects. And it's pretty amazing,” the dentist told me. The suction piece is used anytime water is used. One device is supplied for each room. Suction units are suggested by the ADA, but they are not required.
When it comes to PPE, all the staff members wore a triple-mask: K95 level three’s at the base, a 3D custom-made mask fitting in the center, and then a level one mask on top. The self-designed mask is an outline that sits around the level three mask to create a tighter fit, so that air cannot go in and out.
The mask fitters are made using a smartphone app, which scans the face and auto-generates a mask. A 3D printer model is used in the office to convert the file into a real-life mask that’s composed of resin. In addition, the office carries face shields, gowns, and all the usual PPE. The ADA advises extra PPE to be used if deemed appropriate.
“We want to make sure our patients feel safe. We are always keeping our eyes out on the latest research and the medical governing bodies to see what's appropriate,” Dr. Stein said.
And, yes, my teeth are fine! My advice? Don’t put off your trip to the dentist—but do check on the protocols that your dental office has in place.
Lyndee Yamshon is a freelance writer in the Chicago, IL area.