What can Dentists do during the lockdown?

The strict use of dental services for emergency or urgent dental needs can help in becoming the circuit breaker needed for the complete abolishment of the virus. Since dental offices and hospitals provide a sort of emotional arc to the panicking masses, dentists continue to play a crucial role in the system in fighting the disease. But since dentists are empowered with enforced downtime due to COVID-19, how can dentists make the best use of this time?

Why is dentistry a risky branch?

The zoonotic infection is popularly believed to have been originated in bats and pangolins and later transmitted to humans as a result of unkempt protocols for consumption. COVID-19 has been identified in the human system, abundantly present in nasopharyngeal and salivary secretions of the affected patients. These respiratory secretions play a pivotal role in human-to-human transmission, predominantly by droplet or contact practices. Dental care settings invariably carry the risk of cross-infection between practitioners and patients due to the unique characteristics of these premises. Dentists perform aerosol-generating procedures, what with the use of high-speed handpiece or ultrasonic instruments in order to directly care for patients who could potentially be infected or those considered to be suspected cases for surveillance.

In Bronchoscopy, airborne particles and aerosols produced during dental procedures can be high-risk for dentists where dentists may be closely exposed to the virus as the patient’s secretions, saliva, or blood can aerosolize to the surroundings. Dental apparatus and office surfaces could be contaminated with various pathogenic microorganisms after use or become exposed to a contaminated clinic environment.

The pathogen can be transmitted in dental settings through

  • Inhalation of airborne viruses that may remain suspended in the air for long periods
  • Direct contact with blood, oral fluids, or other patient materials
  • Contact of conjunctival, nasal, or oral mucosa with droplets and aerosols containing microorganisms generated from an infected individual and propelled a short distance by coughing and talking without a mask
  • Indirect contact with contaminated instruments and/or environmental surfaces

Due to these compromising probabilities, an abysmal turnout is foreseen in the dental sectors with the seemingly boisterous spread of the virus. It is thus important to refine preventative strategies to avoid the nosocomial spread of this infection by focusing on patient placement, hand hygiene, and the stringent use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by all dental personnel.

What is the BDA doing about it?

The BDA ensures the public especially worried dentists that they are tirelessly lobbying the Government to ensure that the needs of the dentists are represented at this unprecedented time.  Private dental practices have been largely hit by the pandemic and the lack of financial sustainability of these practices. Many dentists and dental staff have been seen to be applying for redeployment, although the subject of redeployment remains variably voluntary at the moment.

The UK has been put on red alert following the ever-growing cases of emergent COVID-19 and despite the UK-wide shutdown, all dental practices are expected to review the advice recently published by the NHS that includes the following:

  • All routine, non-urgent dental care to be put on hold and deferred until further notice
  • All practices to remain open for limited and carefully risk-assessed patient consultations
  • All practices to establish (independently or by collaborative effort) a remote, urgent care service, providing telephone triage for patients with urgent needs and writing prescriptions for analgesia and medication where appropriate.
  • All patients needing urgent care involving Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs) to be properly referred to local fully-equipped Urgent Dental Care Centers.
  • Any pregnant (beyond 28 weeks) and immunosuppressed team members to be exempted from providing or assisting in the direct care of patients.
  • All routine dentistry and Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs) to cease.

The government encourages a reclusive lifestyle until the situation is better modulated. The public is expected to withdraw from social gatherings and maintain a cloistered way of living. Dental care is to be sought after only if urgent and telephonic “buddy services” are to be availed and taken full advantage of while in the midst of this tumultuous situation.

How can dentists benefit from the lockdown?

The strict use of dental services for emergency or urgent dental needs can help in becoming the circuit breaker needed for the complete abolishment of the virus. Since dental offices and hospitals provide a sort of emotional arc to the panicking masses, dentists continue to play a crucial role in the system in fighting the disease. But since dentists are empowered with enforced downtime due to COVID-19, how can dentists make the best use of this time?

Continuing Professional Development

CPD for dental professionals is defined as lectures, seminars, courses, individual study, and other activities that can reasonably advance an individual’s professional development as a dentist or dental care professional and are relevant to their practice or intended practice. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) aids the dentists and other dental care professionals in maintaining and updating their skills, knowledge, and behavior throughout their working career. A registered dental professional has a duty to maintain, develop and work within professional knowledge and skills and make sure patients’ confidence is reflected in the dentist’s work so they can provide the best possible treatment and care.

Undertaking CPD is a compulsory part of one’s registration with the GDC. CPD helps to maintain public confidence in the dental register by ensuring that dental professionals are staying up-to-date. This is so every dentist can make an effective contribution to dentistry in the UK. Examples of types of CPD may include:

  • Courses and lectures
  • Training days
  • Peer Review
  • Clinical Audit
  • Reading journals
  • Attending conferences
  • E-learning activity

Dental Practice Management Training

Various dental courses online can help in remote training your dental staff without endangering the collective’s health. These valuable course materials offer several ways to teach and learn the most out of a dentist’s profession with brilliant online tutorials, hands-on workshops, half-day training seminars, and many more options available to help you run your practice. Some of the subjects on which you can train your remote staff are:

  • Treatment Planning and Case Presentation
  • Insurance Billing and Collections
  • Paperless Patient Records
  • Clinical Charting
  • Continuing Care Management

Staying in touch with your patients

“Teledentistry” is the use of communication mediums and platforms to deliver healthcare across outlying geographic locations and distances.  Extensive advances and innovations in dentistry have allowed us to communicate with our patients via the internet or telephonic services to address their concerns and help them stay calm amidst the chaos of coronavirus. The process of networking, sharing digital information, distant consultations, workup, and analysis can be beneficial to patients at home during the lockdown and keep them emotionally reassured throughout. Teleconsultations can be done in two ways- real-time consultations and store-and-forward methods.

Real-time consultation involves a videoconference in which dental professionals and their patients, at varied locations, may communicate with one another. A store-and-forward method involves the exchange of static information to their patients. This data sharing can be of extreme importance for patients, especially those in need of specialist consultation.

Market your practice

This is the perfect time to invest in your dental practice by doing some creative blog writing to further advertise your dental practice. Get on forums and other dental websites to analyze what is trending currently and how their content has been written and placed. Apply the same for your own practice. Write about common dental problems or issues like oral hygiene and make sure they are SEO optimized before they go up on your blog.

Reach out to digital marketers who can advertise your dental practice better and produce a constant flow of patients for your practice. Research suggests that dental offices miss out on 80% of patients because they do not market their practice properly. These advertising campaigns can help build significant traffic to your website and ultimately to your dental practice. So during this downtime, work on your digital marketing, website, and other avenues of clinic marketing.

Future practice planning

Teams do best when they have the opportunity to contribute and drive their activities. You won’t get anything done if you micromanage your team’s activities. There is a delicate balance between telling them what to do while listening to their ideas. Prioritize the focus and set clear expectations. Calibrate with your team by looking into existing content in dental history and setting our clear goals to create your standard of health for your patients. Plan for the future by discussing your 5-year plans for the business by strategic planning. Build a policy and procedures manual and focus on expanding and compounding the practice. Strategic planning is an important process that all dental professionals and support teams need to perform periodically. It may take time to expand the business but you start somewhere!

Clean out the workspace

If the dental professionals are continuing their office visits during the lockdown, do some spring cleaning. Organize your dental storage units and sanitize the laboratories. The lab or supply room, equipment maintenance, front office workspace, or the dentist’s office all need a boost and thorough cleaning. Tidy up workspaces, remove clutter and disinfect the entire space to enhance patient experience and staff satisfaction. If you need to keep team members separated due to the need for social distancing consider having the team rotate during different the day. It might even be a great time to throw up a coat of paint or hang some updated artwork.

While dentists are being roped in to man the general medicine OPD by the government, the dentists that have not registered to such can use the downtime to begin giving out refresher courses for their staff and prepare them for arduous tasks ahead. The government has adopted a strategy for cluster containment and for outbreaks that are amenable to management and a sanitation drive that can hopefully help the situation. While the public is in an uproar with the horrifying wrath of the coronavirus settling all over the world, medical professionals are doing their absolute best to contain the situation. With elective dentistry being put aside at the moment, dentists can make sure they make good use of their “free” time.