Thursday, April 18, 2024

Close quarters: How dental practices are protecting themselves during the coronavirus

While other professions can adhere to social distancing guidelines, dental practices treating their patients cannot. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Pixabay)
While other professions can adhere to social distancing guidelines, dental practices treating their patients cannot. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Pixabay)

The coronavirus pandemic has forced residents in the Historic Triangle to wear masks and practice social distancing measures.

But what happens if you have to work in close proximity to someone else’s mouth?

Some dentistry practices in the Historic Triangle have implemented safety measures to ensure their patients and staff are protected as much as possible during the coronavirus.

Kendra Robinson, clinic director of Old Towne Medical & Dental Center, a medical practice in James City County, said they are open for emergency dental care on Wednesdays and Fridays by appointment only.

But patients can still call during the week or meet with dental assistants virtually.

“Right now, our hygiene is on hold because were handing a backlog of dental problems,” she said. “We’re hoping to get our backlog up by the end of the month.”

For patients coming to the center for an appointment, they are not allowed to stay in the clinic’s waiting room. Instead patients are met by staff members at the door and screened with basic COVID-19 questions and temperature checks.

Patients are asked to wear a face mask but for those unable to get one, the center tries to provide a mask for them.

“We’ve been having a few more patients than we normally would have,” she said. “Some because they lost their dental insurance due to unemployment.”

While the staff members are equipped with personal protective equipment, including face masks and surgical gowns, and work to sterilize the room between patients, there are still risks during the dental appointments.

“It doesn’t really help with dental since they take their mask off anyway,” she added, referring to cleanings.

Robinson, who is also a nurse practitioner and certified diabetes coordinator, said it’s important to maintain dental care since it can exacerbate other health problems.

“I would really encourage people to not neglect their dental health,” she said. “Dental health is very important because it can affect every other part of the body.”

Dr. Robert Morrison, CEO and chief clinical officer of Morrison Dental Group, a family run dental practice with locations throughout Virginia including Williamsburg, Newport News and Hampton, said they have been open during the pandemic and treating emergency patients.

“The idea was to keep them out of emergency rooms,” he said, adding they were treating some patients from Olde Towne clinic, urgent care and emergency rooms. “Forty percent of the patients were not our patients.”

While the practice has since resumed normal operations providing preventative care such as regular cleanings, they are still seeing a significant number of patients from other practices needing emergency care, Morrison said.

“The longer people go without diagnostic and preventive care, there will be more emergencies,” he said.

Preventative care is important and there is a systematic link between gum disease and heart disease, something considered a risk factor for COVID-19, Morrison said.

Just like Old Towne Medical & Dental Center, the Morrison Dental Group is also screening dental patients prior to their appointments.

The appointments are staggered and patients wait in the parking lot until a staff member calls or texts them. Those who need to fill out paperwork prior to their dental appointment, are handled at tablet by a staff member.

While the coronavirus screening questions are available via a patient portal, Morrison asks patients with upcoming appointments to do it the day of for the most up to date information.

In addition, all the staff members have their temperature checked and are screened daily, Morrison said.

Staff must wear a mask at all the time, regardless of whether or not they are in the treatment room with a patient and are required to use PPE, eye protections and gloves during patient appointments.

Other ways the practice has worked to reduce the amount of aerosol in the room is installing air purifiers throughout the building in treatment rooms, offices and lobby areas at each location.

In addition to filtering the air, the new purifiers have HEPA filters and use UV light to filter pathogens, too.

The dental practice has also started telehealth or teledentistry, having video visits with their patients.

“We do that with a lot of emergency patients [to] assess their condition,” he said. “We do a lot of our follow up appointments that way.”

But not every patient is making an appointment at this time.

Some patients have chosen to wait because they are considered vulnerable, either elderly or immunocompromised, and Morrison said they take a personalized approach, evaluating their patients on a patient by patient basis.

“The hospital resources need to be used for other things not dental emergencies,” he said. “This was not about making a dollar, it was providing a service. We’re very serious about being a part of a community.”

Both Old Towne Medical & Dental Center, 5249 Old Towne Road, and Morrison Dental Group, 1131 Professional Drive, are hiring dental assistants. For more information or to apply, visit the their respective websites.


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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