by Brigette Easter, Written March 17, 2020
As a dental hygienist and healthcare provider, I am exposed to dangerous bacteria, viruses, etc on a daily basis by the creation of aerosols. We (dental hygienists) are HIGHLY trained in infection control practices, standard precautions to prevent disease transmission, etc, but the thing that stands out to me is COVID-19 is not only transmitted via air droplets (aerosols) but can also linger in the air for up to 3 hours. To my knowledge, there are no standard precautions available to address this! Some say the level 3 masks we wear will not allow the virus to penetrate but no one really knows. However, I feel there is sufficient evidence stating that an N95 mask will prevent transmission. As dental professionals, we have an obligation to help protect our patients, our community, our families and ourselves from this particular biological pandemic. Most dental practices have already heeded the recommendations from CDC, ADA, ADHA and most recently, the US Government Coronavirus Task Force of postponing all elective and preventive care appointments, leaving dental offices vacant but fully staffed with highly trained healthcare professionals willing and able to work!
We have diligently worked for years educating the public and the medical community of how important oral healthcare is and that WE should be recognized and respected as the valuable healthcare professionals we are! Well, in my opinion, now is the time for us as a profession to stand up even taller and put our money where our mouth is! With all the medical offices, long term care facilities and hospitals being inundated with people exhibiting possible signs and symptoms of COVID-19 etc, and requesting to be tested, bridge this gap between medicine and dentistry and utilize us to help combat the problem! Utilize dental hygienists, etc to help with screenings, testing, education, help provide injections if needed. We can help make appointments for those needing to get tested, take vital signs, etc, the list can go on. From my understanding the test is easier than using an ORAL DNA test that many of us use daily. Utilize dental practices as quarantine stations, similar with blood drives or testing centers instead of parking lots. This can free up medical staff to provide treatment etc as well as the hospitals who are providing treatment etc. Who knows, maybe the utilization of dental hygienists etc, will be more noticeable in future public health settings, medical offices and hospital settings in the future!
Now is also a time to consider the utilization and expansion of Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioners (ADHP) or Dental Therapists (DT) throughout our country. This is an opportunity where dental hygienists with additional training, can broaden our scope of practice and utilize Teledentistry to help dentists and other healthcare professionals address the needs of so many individuals during these trying times. Although, dental hygienists are highly trained to diagnose dental disease, several states’ dental laws prevent dental hygienists from performing these duties. However, ADHP and DT are able to perform these tasks as well as write prescriptions for many situations.
Remember, we are healthcare providers and this is what we have been wanting, to be recognized as such!! So let’s stop complaining about the obvious aerosols we deal with daily and move forward in bridging the gap between medicine and dentistry and assisting our hard working, dedicated, selfless medical community that WE are a part of!