How dentists minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission

Dentists have been using enhanced hygiene protocols since the 1980s, so they have processes in place that are helpful during the current pandemic. 

Photo of dentist in protective workwear checking teeth of girl with dental mirror and carver during COVID-19 pandemic

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Dentists are well experienced in infection control. Recently, I spoke with Dr. Alastair Nicoll, chair of the B.C. Dental Association’s Back to Work Task Force, about how this expertise helps dentists to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dentists have been using strategies to reduce the risk of disease transmission for decades, since the emergence of HIV and blood-borne diseases,” he says. “Dentistry adopted standard protocols that we use all the time.”

Dr Nicholl represents B.C. in a nation-wide task force led by the Canadian Dental Association that includes representatives from every province. The task force helps dentists understand and apply provincial health orders for preventing transmission of COVID-19.

Dental offices look different

Dentists in B.C. reopened for elective and non-essential dentistry on May 15, 2020 after a two-month shut down. Says Dr. Nicholl: “As a workplace, dental offices are not unlike other retail and service businesses throughout the province. We’ve taken various steps to minimize interactions between members of the public and our own staff. We’re also taking steps to ensure that people who are sick defer their visits unless it’s an emergency.”

Waiting rooms at dental offices have changed a lot because of COVID-19 protocols. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer awaits you at the entrance to reception, where you will see:

  • Fewer people present
  • Chairs placed 2 metres apart
  • Markings on the floor indicating 2-metre separation
  • Signage explaining proper hygiene and physical distancing
  • A physical barrier (like plexiglass) between you and office staff
  • No coffee tables, magazines, or toys

Well-aligned guidance from regulators in B.C.

Dr. Nicholl says B.C.’s dental industry is lucky to have a well-coordinated approach from regulators — including the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the Provincial Health Officer, WorkSafeBC, and the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia (CDSBC). “We’ve had very clear guidance from our regulators, and everything is aligned.”

He reminds everyone that despite “COVID fatigue,” we must “pay attention to detail and be vigilant about following health and safety recommendations.” Like employers in other workplaces, those in dental offices must also regularly re-evaluate health and safety protocols to make sure they’re still effective.

Dr. Nicholl received a Medal of Honour from the Canadian Dental Association in 2019 for his dedication to his patients and profession. (Read more about it in this story in the Free Press.)

For more information, see COVID-19 Information for Dental Patients from the B.C. Dental Association, COVID-19 Information from the CDSBC, and WorkSafeBC’s guide for reviewing and updating your COVID-19 safety plan.

I’d like to hear about your experiences visiting the dentist during COVID-19. And, if you are a dentist, please share your views in the comments below.

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