Face shields, social distancing and fog machines are the new ‘norm’ for dental appointments.
After months of being shuttered due to the coronavirus, Michigan dental offices have reopened for nonessential procedures following Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s May 29 announcement.
For Dr. Nelson Hersh from Hersh-Beattie Orthodontics, their offices began seeing patients right away on Friday, May 29 to make up for the time they lost. They have two offices, one in West Bloomfield and the other in Waterford, that are currently seeing patients every day.
Before the reopening of normal procedures for dentists, they were allowed to see patients for emergency services only. Hersh had very few emergency appointments since orthodontists don’t have the same emergencies as regular dentists, but they have been swamped trying to catch everyone up with appointments.
Hersh’s office began calling and setting up appointments when they first reopened for the patients that needed to be seen right away, or those who had appointments that were canceled due to the closure. Their offices are currently open five days a week, unlike before COVID-19 hit when they were not seeing patients on Fridays. The office is still trying to catch up on their backlog.
With their reopening, Hersh’s office now has different protocols in place. Upon confirmation for their appointment, the office screens all patients with a health questionnaire. The office is also limiting the number of patients in the waiting room and using every other chair when the patients go back for their appointments.
“We’re doing a concierge service, which means that either mom or dad call to let us know that they are here, because usually our patients are kids, and then we have someone come out to get them and bring them into the office. It also depends on their age,” Hersh said. “Then we screen them again by asking questions, checking their temperature and immediately bringing them back and putting them into a chair so they are not in the waiting room.”
All of the office staff has the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) on at all times. There is an acrylic shield in place at the front desk, and Hersh and the other dentists are always wearing face masks or face shields. Patients entering the office must also have a mask on and follow the markings on the floor to ensure social distancing.
Hersh’s office washes everything down once they have been used with strong antibacterial and antiviral disinfectants. The office has even hired extra people to ensure that every chair sanitized between each patient.
“Once patients realize the procedures that are being put in place, I believe that they will understand that the office is as safe as it possibly can be,” Hersh said. “I would rather be overprotective than under-protective. I love our patients and I just want to make sure we are doing everything possible to keep them safe.”
Dr. Mark Birnholtz, located in Farmington Hills, and Dr. Paul Darmon, located in Beverly Hills, were both able to see some patients during the closure for emergency services. Birnholtz’s office opened on May 29 and Darmon’s office did a soft opening on June 2, spending Sunday, May 31 and Monday, June 1 rehearsing and practicing their new procedures with his staff.
Birnholtz and Darmon were both in contact with their office staff throughout the closure and had Zoom meetings periodically to keep them up to date on new information and what the procedures may look like once the offices opened back up.
Both dentists now have similar protocols put in place for patients. They have them fill out a health questionnaire and wait in their cars instead of the lobby; they check the patients’ temperatures as soon as they come into the office and have everyone in the office constantly wearing the proper PPE.
They’ve purchased air purifiers and even fog machines to disinfect their spaces.
“We’re turning over all the air in each room every five minutes,” Birnholtz told the JN. “Next, we bought commercial grade foggers. We have a machine that actually makes the sterilizing solution, called hypochlorous, and then we fog each room if we do any long procedures in there and then we fog each room at the end of every day. So, everything in there is hit with the fogger and it just kills everything it touches.”
Darmon’s office has even remodeled parts of the building to replace some of the carpeting with vinyl flooring so it’s easier to clean and disinfect during patient visits but also at the end of each day.
“I would say 90% of our patients are fine and comfortable coming into our office and can see that we are going above and beyond to ensure our staff and patients’ safety,” Darmon told the JN. “We are happy to answer any questions that our patients may have before they come into the office to make sure they are comfortable when they do come back.”