Opinion: State’s Dentists Navigating a New Normal During Pandemic

Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Dental Association.

During the past six months, we have seen Marylanders across the state step up to help friends and neighbors in need. Strangers are making masks for the immunocompromised, restaurants are providing food to front line workers, organizations are donating school supplies to kids, and the list goes on and on.

The list includes dentists who early on were called upon to stop treating patients, except for emergency situations, and gladly donated their personal protective equipment to those on the immediate front lines.

During the nearly two months when our practices were closed and we were only treating emergency patients to help keep emergency departments free for COVID-19 patients, dentists used that time to get themselves ready for reopening.

We rewrote operating manuals outlining new infection control measures and new safety protocols for the entire office. We also began diligently seeking personal protective equipment, which remains dentists’ top concern as we continue to navigate the new normal.

We get it. Most people don’t want to see a dentist when there isn’t a global pandemic. But it’s even more important now to see your dentist. The mouth is the entryway into the body, and we can often see problems before anybody else.

It’s why our practices have been singularly focused on providing the best patient care in the safest manner possible. Marylanders need it and deserve it.

Dentistry is well-known for having in place the utmost safeguards and infection control measures. This care and precision stems from our knowledge and understanding of infectious diseases that have entered our society over the years. For instance, many of us can remember when dentistry grappled with the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, and we knew so little about the disease, but it was an important experience for our profession in preparing us for other infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

We understand the consequences if we don’t get it right. Our patients, our staff and our families depend on it.

That is why dentists across Maryland are implementing the most extensive infection control measures and safety protocols ever put in place by the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control. Our patients are noticing. We consistently hear how safe people feel when they enter our practices. It’s no secret why.

Beyond infection control, new safety procedures for our offices and waiting areas include fewer people in the waiting area and often additional ventilation systems in the office. We are completing as much paperwork as possible over the phone and through email to keep time spent in the office to a minimum.

Dentists across Maryland have also taken advantage of the emergency orders and new laws that have allowed us to better utilize teledentistry. This has been a tremendous opportunity for a growing number of us to better serve our patients who may be compromised or in a position where they aren’t able to travel to a dental office. Think of how residents in nursing homes get dental care. Nobody could go in or out, but many of our dentists utilized this new technique, with the help of the nurses in the building, to triage residents needing treatment.

We hope to continue using this new technology to better serve Marylanders even after COVID-19.

Now as we inch closer to flu season, we realize that a second wave is likely. The Maryland State Dental Association is analyzing what worked well and what we can improve to ensure that dentists can continue providing our patients the best dental care in the safest environment possible.

We look forward to treating our patients and helping keep Maryland healthy throughout this pandemic.

— DR. CHRIS LIANG

The writer is president of the Maryland State Dental Association and a practicing orthodontist in Montgomery County.