Community, Our Stories

Dental staff aims for sensible, stress-free visits

Creswell Family Dental Clinic on West Oregon Avenue and other local dentist offices have a procedure in place for visits in a pandemic. Creswell Family Dental Clinic on West Oregon Avenue and other local dentist offices have a procedure in place for visits in a pandemic. EMMA ROUTLEY/PHOTO

CRESWELL — No matter what your thoughts and beliefs are about the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some ideas that are pretty much set in stone. One is that you still need to eat, and in order to do that effectively and long-term, you cannot ignore your dental health.

A visit to the dentist can be an anxiety-laden experience even under the best conditions, but you still need to take care of your teeth. Dentistry is, by nature, an up-close, personal, hands-on experience, so how does your dentist plan to keep themselves, their staff, and their patients safe during these trying times?

As dental offices reopen locally, patients may be in for some pleasant surprises.

Ashley Rigel, a dental assistant at Creswell Family Dental Clinic, said that they have had to put some new procedures in place that generally happen before you get into the dental chair. These include a pre-visit screening by phone, screening upon arrival, and wearing a face covering. Before your appointment, your dental office may call you to ask about your health and travel records. 

When you arrive you will be asked a series of coronavirus questions and your temperature will be measured. Once you get to the back and into the chair, Ashley said that it’s basically business as usual. 

Some offices are giving patients a hydrogen peroxide/mouthwash pre-rinse prior to beginning any procedure. Creswell dentist Dr. Hugh Lee on Melton Road said that all dental offices follow universal guidelines during dental procedures, so there isn’t a huge difference once the screening is done and your procedure begins.

You may notice that some of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that the dental staff wear is different. All dental team members have upgraded their protective gear. This PPE includes, but is not limited to, an N95 face mask, and/or a face shield or goggles. Some staff will wear a disposable gown. The dentist may have covered the computer’s keyboard with a disposable cover so it can be easily cleaned between patients.

The criteria for PPE are established by each particular office or clinic, but as a minimum, they all follow the guidelines set forth by the appropriate regulating agency (OSHA, CDC, American Dental Association, Oregon Dental Association). Between patients, dentists and their team will clean and disinfect surfaces and sterilize instruments.

Many dentists also offer a virtual waiting room. Patients can check in via text message and wait, if necessary, somewhere outside the clinic, such as in a car. This will reduce the number of people in the office and reduce the amount of time you’re exposed to other people. 

To help make the air quality sanitary, dentists have even invested in high-efficiency air purification systems (HEPA). Dr. Lee said his office used to have one HEPA filtering unit and now it has four, adding that the units do a complete filtering and change of the air every 20 minutes.

After your appointment, the dental team members will clean the area with disinfectant. If you start feeling symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of your appointment, contact the dental office. You may have already been carrying the virus at the time of your appointment, so anyone who came into contact with you during that time, including the dental staff, could be at risk for getting sick too.

“We’re lucky in Oregon and Lane County because the COVID rates are low,” Dr. Lee said. 

For some, going to the dentist is a huge stressor, but with a bit of planning, you’ll be surprised at how smoothly things can go. 

“We try to keep a visit to the dentist sensible, reasonable, and stress-free,” Ashley said.