Gov. Gregg Abbott halted all elective surgeries and non-emergency procedures in late March to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The governor issued another executive order restricting elective procedures in late June, but instead of the broader order from March that applied to all “licensed health care facilities,” that one specifically targeted hospitals.
Dental clinics throughout the state shuttered for about a month, remaining open for emergencies only.
Most dental clinics in Texas have reopened by now and dental care workers say it’s safe to go back to the dentist because of all the safety measures their clinics have put in place. Some even say these increased precautions have made now their clinics much more sterile.
Brittany Wragg is a dental hygienist at Drennan Family Dentistry in Fort Worth and her uniform nowadays consists of a lot of garments.
When she’s at work, she wears two masks, two lab coats, special protective goggles and a full-face shield. In between patients, she also switches out one of the masks and one of the lab coats each time.
The clinic has patients wait in their cars before their appointment and each patient has their temperature taken right before entering the building. Plexiglas barriers have been put in place and everything is constantly being wiped down.
She says that these increased safety measures — including all the gear she wears around the clock — are keeping patients and herself safe from the virus.
“I’ve always considered our clinic a sterile environment because of all the sterilization we do, even on a normal basis,” Wragg said. “But now we’re doing even much more.”
She says that her line of works has the potential to expose her to a plethora of germs like bacterial infections and other viruses.
Business Insider, an online business news publication, even declared the dental hygienist as the worker with the highest health risk in the country due to the potential exposure to diseases, based on information from the Occupational Information Network.
COVID-19 doesn’t scare Wragg, as long as she’s wearing all of her personal protective equipment (PPE) while she’s at work.
“Honestly, I don’t feel any different now than I did before just as long as we have our PPE, which we always have,” she added.
Dr. Elizabeth Laborde is a registered dentist and the president of the Fort Worth District Dental Society. Her practice has put in place similar safety measures that she says would be beneficial to keep once the pandemic subsides.
“We also have extra air filters and really, all of these things are good things to keep in the long term for infection control,” she said.
Her practice, Clearfork Pediatric Dentistry, has been in operation for less than a year. She says that the sheer amount of PPE her practice has had to purchase put a financial toll on the clinic.
“Having to suddenly buy all of that — including the Plexiglas and everything else — was a lot of stress and a lot of effort for a small startup,” she said. “It was certainly necessary, but it was a big financial hit.”
She says that her clinic received economic assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program which she says eased the financial burden.
For Jeannie Baumgardner, a dental hygienist at Fischer Dental in Fort Worth, it’s the same story at her clinic — there’s new extensive safety precautions put in place to safeguard the patients and the workers from any kind of virus.
But Baumgardner says that she’s heard of some dental hygienists who’ve actually chosen not to go back to work because their medical histories put them at high risk for complications if they contract COVID-19.
“Of course, the virus is very concerning but I feel pretty safe as long I’m provided my PPE,” she said. “Fortunately, I have a very good employer, so he was not about to put any of us at risk.”
So, it safe to go back to the dentist? Dr. Laborde, Wragg and Baumgardner all say, “absolutely yes.”
In fact, Baumgardner says that putting off going to the dentist is even more of a health risk than avoiding the dentist because of the novel coronavirus.
“The first thing that usually comes up is gum disease itself, which is a systemic inflammation and it can lead to cardiac problems, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, a number of conditions,” she said.