It’s not exactly business as usual for dentists, but local practices have started to reconnect with longtime patients who are more than happy to see them again as their offices reopen for routine care amid the COVID-19.
“It’s been a big adjustment for everyone,” said Dr. Martz, who said the moment the state shut off all but emergency dental visits with the March shutdown, her office started immediately rescheduling more than 400 patients with appointments in the following months. Martz suspected the shutdown would be a while and she was correct. The state’s Phase 2 reopening on June 6 finally allowed routine dental visits.
“Everything has changed for us with new precautions and standard practices to ensure patients and employees are safe,” says Robert Lipkowitz, DDS, a general dentist who opened his Magnolia dental practice 30 years ago. When his office reopened, it was on a highly limited capacity as he and his staff worked through the details of their “new normal.”
Patients are now called and screened a day or two ahead before their scheduled appointment. Then, upon arrival, a patient now checks in outside the office by phone. Their temperature is taken before entering. Dr. Martz’s procedure is nearly the same, where appointments are toggled between patients scheduled for a teeth cleaning with a hygienist and those coming in for dental work. It’s slower, but better under the circumstances.
“My practice has traditionally been a smaller and more patient focused one and I know Dr. Martz’ is the same. Some of my patients I’ve been treating for almost 20 years, as long as I’ve been here,” said Lipkowitz. “Having to slow down and take more time with patients isn’t as challenging for our office. If you’re practice depends on having five patients in a chair at once, it’s going to be a problem.”
For all dentists, no matter the size, ramping up technology and equipment is a big part of the equation during this pandemic. Both Lipkowitz and Martz have specialized, high velocity “IQAir” air suction and separate air purification filters to handle the aspiration that comes with dental drills. They have all the clinical protective equipment such as N-95 masks and face shields and disposable gowns that are worn for a patient’s entire visit and then disposed of properly while the care rooms are sanitized. Dental and medical associations have strict guidelines on patient care for dentists. Martz and Lipkowitz have established patient and employee safety protocols that go above and beyond those standards.
These changes, said Martz, are how dental offices like hers protects their employees and patients and they’re not negotiable. (“It’s how it is,” she said.)
“We have great patients and great staff, so that’s the one thing that is getting us through this time right now,” said Martz. Lipkowitz agrees. “I spend more time with my patients now,” he said. “In a way, it’s a silver lining to a very challenging time.”