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Don’t expect dental offices to open Tuesday, says association

Dentists anxious to get back to filling cavities and examining your bite won’t be opening Tuesday, says the B.C. Dental Association, which is awaiting guidance from the province and its regulatory body.
Dentist Rachel Staples, left, performs a root canal on Roy McLennon with the assistance of certified dental assistant Alejandra Romero.

Dentists anxious to get back to filling cavities and examining your bite won’t be opening Tuesday, says the B.C. Dental Association, which is awaiting guidance from the province and its regulatory body.

Phase 2 of the province’s restart plan is scheduled to begin on May 19, which has led many patients to wrongly assume dentists’ offices will return to regular service then, says the association.

Since March 23, dental offices have been limited to tele-dentistry and emergency care.

Dr. Alastair Nicoll, association spokesman, said dentists want to ensure their practices are appropriately set up to comply with physical-distancing and other requirements designed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

To do that, they have to see the guidelines that will be determined by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and articulated by the College of Dental Surgeons of B.C.

“This is all uncharted territory,” said Nicoll, who is cautiously optimistic the association will know more Friday. “But that would likely not be in time for most to ramp up by Tuesday, so I’m hoping for some kind of easing [of restrictions] next week.”

Nicoll said dentists are anxious to serve their patients “and get on with it.”

“We know that the health needs of people living in British Columbia have not been met over the last few months” with only emergency cases being handled, he said. “And we sense from patients, too, that they’re anxious to have their treatments completed or done, or any of the urgent things that don’t really qualify as an emergency taken care of.”

At the same time, dentists know protecting the health of British Columbians is a priority, and Nicoll said the provincial health officer has been managing that extremely well. “We are happy to defer to the judgment of her office.”

Until they receive guidance on the easing of restrictions, dentists are only permitted to provide emergency and urgent services, Nicoll said.

Dr. Rachel Staples, of Urban Smiles in Victoria and Colwood, has been performing emergency dentistry since late March, serving patients from the mid and south Island. Her Victoria office has performed more than 100 extractions and 55 root canals since April 1, she said.

“This is a very stressful type of dentistry because a lot of the patients are in extreme pain,” said Staples. “They’re not in the best mood, their finances are strapped and a lot of them have lost their benefits.”

Staples said she’s “150 per cent” looking forward to being able to see patients for regular visits again.

The dental association said one of its concerns in easing restrictions is availability of personal protective equipment.

That was a major speed bump for Staples, who currently employs two administrative staff and four clinicians, and only had access to personal protective equipment already on hand. Her traditional supply of gowns, gloves, booties, caps and masks was diverted to hospitals and doctors.

Her mother, Carol-Ann Staples, hearing of the problem, jumped into action and sourced some P100 surgical masks for her daughter. The senior Staples, 80, also sewed her daughter colourful gowns and caps made from a tight-knit polycotton. She has made more than 30 gowns.

Rachel Staples, whose face was reddened and swollen from her mask and face shield on Thursday, said the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment is quite involved and must be done before and after each aerosolizing procedure. She installed a washing machine and dryer in both of her offices to wash all of the garments daily. Soap and water kill the virus.

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said WorkSafe B.C. and public-health officials are finalizing the details on guidelines for the reopening of services such as dentistry, chiropractic and face-to-face counselling.

He said if there’s a perceived hold-up, it’s because the province wants to “make sure we get it right.”

When dentists’ offices open, they will operate differently, the dental association said. Chairs, magazines and toys will be removed from waiting rooms, for example, and the receptionist might sit behind a transparent barrier.

Patients will be asked health-screening questions when making their appointments and on the day of their appointments.