Den­tists bounc­ing back from virus shut­downs

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Tom Mur­phy

U.S. den­tal of­fices are quickly bounc­ing back, but it won’t be busi­ness as usual. Ex­pect so­cial dis­tanc­ing, lay­ers of pro­tec­tive gear and a new ap­proach to some pro­ce­dures to guard against coro­n­avirus.

Den­tal of­fices largely closed, ex­cept for emer­gency care, af­ter the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion rec­om­mended in March that they should de­lay elec­tive pro­ce­dures like teeth clean­ing and fill­ing cav­i­ties.

By April, only 3% of den­tal of­fices were open for non-emer­gency care, ac­cord­ing to Marko Vu­ji­cic, chief econ­o­mist with the Amer­i­can Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion’s Health Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

Polling data shows about two-thirds were back open in May and Vu­ji­cic ex­pects that to reach 97% by the end of June. He es­ti­mates that only 1% of den­tists will ul­ti­mately sell their prac­tices, re­tire or file for bank­ruptcy.

“They seem to have weath­ered the storm,” Vu­ji­cic said.

Den­tists say gov­ern­ment loans helped some of them sur­vive the shut­down, and de­mand for their work is push­ing them to re­open quickly.

“The need for even rou­tine den­tal care never went away,” said Dr. Terri Tier­sky, who runs a small prac­tice in Skokie, Illi­nois. “We needed to get back to our pa­tients and our staff needed to get back to work.”

Tier­sky closed her of­fice to all but emer­gen­cies in mid- March. She then helped ar­range do­na­tions of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment from the Chicago Den­tal So­ci­ety for health work­ers treat­ing COVID-19 pa­tients.

She opened in early June af­ter buy­ing air pu­ri­fiers and stock­ing back up on pro­tec­tive gear.

“We are bend­ing over back­wards to make sure our of­fices are ready and safe,” said Tier­sky, who wears two masks when she sees pa­tients.

Nick­o­lette Karabush was one of Tier­sky’s first pa­tients to re­turn af­ter she cracked a tooth while eat­ing pop­corn. The 58-yearold High­wood, Illi­nois, res­i­dent has an au­toim­mune disorder and had been hun­kered down at home since COVID-19 hit.

“The thought of hav­ing to go to a den­tist of­fice re­ally just freaked me out,” she said.

Karabush set­tled down af­ter she saw ev­ery­one in Tier­sky’s of­fice wear­ing masks and no one else in the wait­ing room.

“Ev­ery­thing was very clean,” she said. “It felt like a very safe en­vi­ron­ment.”

Tier­sky and other den­tists have taken sev­eral pre­cau­tions like re­mov­ing wait­ing room mag­a­zines and ask­ing pa­tients about COVID-19 symp­toms be­fore they re­ceive care.

Dr. Kirk Norbo has an em­ployee sta­tioned in the foyer of his Pur­cel­lville, Vir­ginia, den­tal of­fice to take vis­i­tors’ tem­per­a­tures be­fore they en­ter the wait­ing room.

It might take a while for all busi­ness to re­turn. Al­tarum econ­o­mist Ani Turner noted that a lot of den­tal care is dis­cre­tionary and can be post­poned, and pa­tients will still be wor­ried about be­ing ex­posed to the virus.

“Peo­ple may tend to pro­cras­ti­nate on clean­ings and main­te­nance any­way,” she said.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

Dr. Terri Tier­sky wears full pro­tec­tive gear in­clud­ing a dou­ble mask at her den­tal of­fice.

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