Free to reopen, dentists grapple with new sanitation standards

With dentists and doctors across Florida now clear to reopen their practices, some are already back up and running while others are planning for next week. Now, patients are getting a first look at yet another way the world is changing amid the pandemic. 

Chances are, during your visit or operation, it will be just you and your doctor or dentist with no other visitors allowed. Dr. Rudy Liddell runs a dental practice in Brandon and also serves as co-chair of the American Dental Association’s Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery. He told FOX 13 these measures are not only about protecting patients, but also the staff. 

“We wanted to take some time to evaluate the new system we have in place, to make sure that my team members are comfortable with the changes that we put in place and if they had any suggestions or recommendations that I had time to listen and see what their concerns were," he said.

You may see hand sanitizer at the front desk when you first arrive. Don't be surprised if the receptionist asks you to use it when you first walk in. 

“In our reception area, you won’t find any magazines, you won’t find a newspaper, you won’t find a coffee station,” Dr. Liddell explained. “You won’t find kids’ toys -- anything multiple people could touch. We also have one of our team members go out and we wipe everything down on a regular basis and it’s very visible to the patients. We don’t have as many people in our reception area anymore.”

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Dr. Adam Hunt also operates a dental practice in Brandon. With plans to reopen on Monday, he said that amid the many changes going into effect, this level of sanitation is nothing new for most dental staff. 

“I want patients to understand that the dental community as a profession has already been doing a lot of these infection control protocols," he told FOX 13. "We have a great baseline that we’ve been treating patients with for years and for decades. What we’re doing is not necessarily major changes but adding additional layers of protection and protocol that’s already been in place.” 

You may find that you're asked to wait in your car instead of sitting inside. Look for a text or a call when the doctor is ready to see you. Be ready to be asked some COVID-19 screening questions, likely before as well as after you arrive for your appointment. 

“We’re going to be calling all of our patients who are currently scheduled or are going to schedule, and we’re going to be going through a COVID-19 ADA (American Dental Association) health questionnaire,” Hunt explained. 

“Those questions are going to be things that we might normally think of. Have you had any flulike symptoms? Have you been caring for anyone who’s been COVID-19 positive? Are you traveling frequently?" he added. "So we’re going to go through that questionnaire and assess any red flags we see prior to them coming to their appointments. When they’re present at our office they’ll still have that same health questionnaire ask to them and they’re also going to have a temperature read.”

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Hunt said that staff at his practice will undergo daily temperature logs as they enter the office for the day before being allowed to go into the operating rooms or treat any patients. You can also expect to see staff wearing more personal protective gear than before. 

Additionally, practices across the state are now staggering appointments to allow for physical distancing between patients. This could mean fewer scheduling options. Hunt said he wants patients to enter his practice free from infection fears. 

“One of our biggest goals and one of our biggest challenges is going to be helping patients feel comfortable coming back in to the dental care environment,” Hunt explained. “We want to ease their minds and let them know that over the past months, we’ve taken opportunities to educate and to be able to implement new protocol.”

And dentists are not the only medical professionals taking extra precautions. Many Bay Area hospitals tell FOX 13 there will be enhanced screenings and protocols in place to make sure staff as well as patients stay safe.