As dentist offices open back up, what does ‘The dentist will see you now’ really mean?

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, what exactly does “the dentist will see you now” mean?

Dentistry is classified as “high-risk” in aerosol production, and you can see that when Atlantic Dental Care’s Dr. Dan Barton, D.D.S. cleans teeth. There are airborne droplets dispersed in the air, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they can transmit coronavirus.

The safety concerns have forced a new “norm” in dentistry, Barton said.

“We must maintain the proper personal protective equipment protocol, washing hands, keeping our staff protected, keeping our patients protected, and I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.

The dental community is split over whether Gov. Ralph Northam was correct in allowing dental offices to open again starting May 1.  Barton stands with the governor’s decision, 

“The governor is a physician himself, so he has a great background, and I trust what he says about opening up, and if we follow these guidelines, I think we will be fine,” Barton told us.  

Dental hygienists and dental assistants who are licensed professionals have flooded WAVY’s inbox with opposition emails about Northam’s call to reopen. We got one from a dental hygienist who does not want to be identified — who does not work in Barton’s office — but may leave the profession over this.

“I am considering that… The fact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that they want all elective care stopped until further notice, and the governor is not following those directions … was shocking to me. The American Dental Association (ADA) is not following them,” the dental hygenist said. 

She points to the CDC, which is “recommending dental facilities postpone elective procedures … non-urgent dental visits … until further notice.” A CDC revision to the guidelines on April 27 says everyone — regardless of having symptoms or not — should wear personal protective equipment. Businesses should also actively screen patients and staff for fever before they enter the business.

Barton said it is a responsibility for his practice to reopen, and that body health is connected to mouth health.

“There is no telling when this virus or pandemic will go away, unless there is a cure found, and we aren’t sure how soon that will be,” Barton said. “That means people with heart attacks, strokes, diabetic patients, can go downhill, or either bring about those other diseases. Or, if they are existing, make them worse.”

The unidentified hygienist, however, has a counter point.

“We are following the money. We are not following safety. It seems it’s all about politics, and money, and who is paying who. It is not about safety,” she said.

Barton also spent the afternoon in a well-attended staff meeting with the practice’s 21 employees. They allowed WAVYto come in and tape some of it.  

“It sure is good to see everyone. Everybody is all happy faces,” Barton said, with laughter following.  

Barton began the meeting setting the tone of teamwork.

“If you’re ever playing sports, the best way to have an awesome team is to have a good game plan, and to have all of our ducks in a row,” he said.

The good game plan goes through Office Manager Denise Middleton. All staff must now go through her office every morning. Temperatures are taken every day.

“I want to put your fears and your anxiety, which we all have a little bit of, to rest. It’s normal in an unknown.” 

The new rules and regulations were laid out by Middleton during the meeting.

“It’s important when patients call that you talk to them about their health. Ask questions, whether they’ve been sick, do they have a fever, where have they traveled?” she said. 

Patients will now wait in the car, and when told “the dentist will see you now,” they will go straight to the dental chair. There will be no stop in the lobby.

“All staff members will wear masks if they are within 6 feet of each other. That means all front desk ladies,” Middleton said. That new rule did not find favor with some. 

The welcome lobby is really a thing of the past, for now.

“We will have no coffee maker, no water cooler, no magazines… We will have face shields, disposable gowns — which we do have on order for all procedures — N95 masks, which will be ordered every day and … will be here when you get in through my door.”

For now, this is the new “norm,” and perhaps more impersonal, but also the way it needs to be. 

There is one issue Barton and the hygienist who doesn’t want to be identified agree on: COVID-19 tests should be given to patients before they are seen by the dentist. 

“That is what we’re lobbying for, and that is to have the availability for dentists everywhere to test our patients,” Barton told WAVY News.

The hygienist adds that elective surgeries require a COVID-19 test, so why shouldn’t the dentist?

“To get elective surgery at the hospital you have to have a COVID-19 test, and it has to come back negative before they will operate… It might mean the patient has to come the day before, take the COVID-19 test, wait for the result, and then come back when the result is in… hopefully the next day.” 

Barton says it will increase safety.

So, as a new dawn breaks on post-coronavirus dentistry, here’s the bottom line, according to Barton.

“If patients can just be patient with us. It’s going to be busy with a big volume of patients wanting to get in because they haven’t been seen in a while,” he said. “We need you to be compliant with our rules, and we will be strict on our employees. We want everyone to … have a good experience, and get back to do the ‘norm’ as much as the ‘norm’ may be.” 

The new norm awaits when you are told, “The dentist will see you now.” 


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