After being closed for more than two months, B.C. dental offices have been given the green light to reopen ofter the Victoria Day long weekend — but shortages of personal protective equipment could mean some will remain closed.
Dentists in B.C. have only been taking on patients needing urgent care since March 16, when Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced thousands of practitioners who attended an industry conference in Vancouver a week earlier would have to self-isolate due to a number of confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to the event.
Two dentists who attended that event later died from COVID-19, while a number of other conference attendees fell ill.
Dental offices have remained closed given the nature of dental work and the inability for dentists to adhere to physical-distancing guidelines while working with patients.
Premier John Horgan announced last week that dental offices could reopen as of May 19, but B.C.’s dental college has yet to issue any guidelines to practitioners.
“It’s still a bit of an unknown,” Dr. David Ciriani, president of the Kamloops and District Dental Society, told KTW.
“We’re accustomed to doing all the sterilization and wearing masks and gloves, but the tough part is that basically everything we use — our tools, drills — generates aerosols, which makes a virus much more contagious because you spread it through the air.”
Ciriani said he expects to find out this week what type of masks will be required when dental procedures resume.
“I think it’s going to need to be N95 masks and they just aren’t around anywhere,” he said. “So, although we can go ahead and open, whether we’ll have the equipment for it will be another thing.”
Ciriani said he also expects dental offices to look very different, including barriers between staff and patients and reduced numbers in waiting rooms.
As a small business owner, Ciriani, who owns his practice, said the shutdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on his bottom line.
“It’s pretty stressful,” he said.
“One of my associates was saying today, ‘I thought dentistry was supposed to be resilient to economic downturns.’ It turns out we’re not. It just a matter of going into overdraft and hoping it comes around. It’s a dead stop in your business, but that’s true for so many small businesses.”
Along with dealing with a backlog of patients who have been without dental services for months, those financial issues will be compounded for dentists unable to reopen on May 19 due to PPE shortages — which Ciriani believes will be the case for some city practices.
“At this point, definitely I think there will be some that cannot open,” he said.
“Even just face shields, for instance, are hard to come by. They’ve been sold out. That is, I think, where the bottleneck will be, is the supply issue.”