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Dentists implement extra precautions for safety amid COVID-19

Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19, residents should rest assured that coming into a dental facility they’ll be safe, said one Albert Lea dentist.

Rachel Nolander-Poppel, one of two dentists at Advanced Family Dental, said many new procedures have been implemented at her facility in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect both staff and patients.

Nolander-Poppel said dental offices were always deemed essential but had stopped doing routine cleanings and elective dental procedures mid-March. On May 18, Advanced Family Dental reopened for routine dental procedures, such as hygiene cleanings. She said her staff are rescheduling the people who had appointments during that time.

Some of the new things patients will see now when they come into the dental office include patients are asked to wear masks, and there is lobbyless waiting. Patients are asked to call when they arrive in the parking lot, and they will be notified when it is their turn to come into the building.

Temperatures are being taken, and everyone is asked to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after entering the building.

Staff are now using a preoperative rinse on patients before they do anything to reduce the bacteria in the mouth, and hospital grade HEPA air sterilizers are in each room to cycle through the air.

Nolander-Poppel said staff are not seeing as many patients at a time, and patients will notice two suction devices during appointments — one is intraoral and one is extraoral. Patients will be asked to hold the extraoral suction, which looks like a funnel and sucks in aerosols that do come out of the mouth.

Advanced Family Dental purchased this UV-light machine for staff to place their N95 masks in at night to kill bacteria on them. – Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Hygienists and the dentists are wearing N95 masks, surgical caps, face shields, disposable gowns, and clinical jackets that are changed in-between patients. Surgical masks are also worn over the N95 masks and changed for every patient, while the N95 masks are changed weekly.

Face shields and N95 masks are required when completing an aerosol-generating procedure, Nolander-Poppel said.

She said in addition to these precautions, there are also extra janitorial services being done, with bathrooms being cleaned hourly, and staff regularly wiping down surfaces.

Even administrative staff at the front desk are wearing face masks.

Hygienists are also hand-scaling when cleaning teeth instead of using ultrasonic scaling to keep aerosols at a minimum.

She said patients so far have been grateful to come in and feel some sense of normal in getting their teeth cleaned and getting other procedures done as they would have before the pandemic.

She has also received a good response from her own team, which she said has been “amazing.”

The dentist said her office is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the last of which were updated in April, and she has gone above those guidelines in some areas.

While obtaining PPE has gotten easier, they still face limitations. Each staff member is given one N95 mask a week, and she purchased a UV-light machine where the staff place their N95 masks each night to kill any bacteria on them.

“It’s peace of mind that we’re doing more than the minimum to stay safe,” she said.

She noted there have been some challenges to the changes that have been implemented, such as it’s more difficult to communicate with patients when they can’t see her face as well, and she commented on how warm it is for staff wearing all of the equipment.

Before the pandemic, the office was kept at 72 degrees, but it is now kept at 68 degrees, so patients are asked to plan ahead if they get cold easily.

She is planning about a month ahead for personal protective equipment for her staff. 

Nolander-Poppel reminded residents that it is not good to postpone regular dental checkups if possible and reassured them of the measures being taken to protect their safety.

Signs up around the dental office remind patients and staff to clean surfaces after use. – Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune