'Do Not Go See Your Dentist': Hygienists Fear Risk Of Reopening Dental Offices

Apr 30, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are all in agreement: non-emergency dental procedures should be postponed until further notice. 

Despite that warning, Gov. Mike DeWine gave the green light for dental offices to open again on May 1, as part of the state's first phase of reopening businesses.

"I felt gutted," says Kristin, a dental hygienist. WOSU is not using Kristin's last name because she’s afraid of retaliation from her workplace.

She says dental tools send bacteria from patients mouths into the air, and people could easily contract COVID-19.

"Dental offices are not set up to handle airborn pathogens," she says. "That’s why we don’t treat people with active tuberculosis. Same principal."

That worry is compounded by the fact that many offices donated their personal protective equipment to hospitals, to help with the fight against COVID-19.

“Some of the dentists who were very kind enough to contribute to the stockpile when we were fearing the huge rush, some of them have asked to get that back," said Gov. Mike DeWine. "That’s a work in progress."

That will be up to local emergency medical services, DeWine said.

Dr. Tom Paumier with the Ohio Dental Association insists that most offices will have enough PPE to reopen. He says his Canton practice will be open Monday, and safety is their priority.

“Every individual will have to weigh their own risk tolerance as to what they feel is absolutely necessary for them to go back to work and every employer will honor that," Paumier said.

While he notes the economic hit many taken, Paumier said that dentists who are reopening before they're fully prepared are acting unethically.

"It's very clear what our options are," Kristin says. "Our options are to go back and find a way to deal with it emotionally, or quit."

Kristin is a single mother, and says she will have no choice but to go back to work. She is considering sending her children to stay with a relative because she's afraid she'll get them sick.

"Do not go see your dentist," she pleads. "Don't come in. Be safe."

Do you have questions about Ohio's coronavirus response? Ask below as part of our Curious Cbus series.

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