Since the novel coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, dental practices have had to quickly adapt to new infection control policies and new expectations from patients. While most dentists and patients alike are adjusting to the “next normal,” some practices have also found innovative and creative ways to mitigate COVID-19 risk while also differentiating themselves and growing their patient base. To get a sense of how they’ve been adapting, I spoke to practices of various sizes and arrived at a few key takeaways.
Here are a few themes that emerged from my conversations:
Going above and beyond with air filtration
Out of the practices I interviewed, simply following CDC guidelines was considered a bare minimum requirement. All of the practices I spoke with made it a point to highlight how they were exceeding the recommended guidelines for screening and infection control as well as limiting patient contact in their offices. At a cosmetic dentistry practice in California’s wine country run by Andrew McCormick, DDS, on top of standard infection control practices, every member of the team gets a temperature screening in the morning before work, and the office keeps a temperature log. On top of that, they’ve invested in medical-grade air filtration units in every operatory and added additional filtration to their central air conditioning system.
Another area practice, Oak Tree Dental of Sebastopol, has also taken all of the standard precautions. They’re also having patients use a hydrogen peroxide prerinse and Isolite intra-oral suction to reduce the amount of dental aerosols in the air. They, too, have invested in air filtration units for each operatory.
In fact, among all of the practices I interviewed, air filtration was a common theme. Every office I spoke to had invested in some sort of additional air filtration system, with most opting for freestanding filters in their operatories and others undertaking more extensive overhauls of their office air conditioning systems.
A creative approach to equipment shortages
Shortly after the pandemic began, the American Dental Association (ADA) advised practices to minimize dental aerosols during treatments and recommended a specific piece of equipment to capture aerosolized droplets at the point of care. Immediately after the announcement, it became a challenge to find the specific piece of equipment recommended as practices scrambled to purchased and install them.
With a bit of creativity, the doctors at Moore, Pascarella & Heinzen drew on their 3D printing knowledge to create an attachment for their intra-oral suction devices that mimics the function of the ADA-recommended aerosol reduction device. They produced a set of custom-made funnel attachments, designed to fit securely onto their intra-oral suction equipment, then they acquired multiple microphone stands to secure the retrofitted suction devices next to patients during treatment, finding a creative workaround to the shortage and going the extra mile to take care of patient and team health during a trying time.
Marketing COVID-19 protections
Of the practices I interviewed, one truly stood out with their exceptional response to infection control. The Monterey Peninsula Dental Group (MPDG) took the initiative early on in the pandemic to completely replace their existing HVAC system with a CleanAir EXP system, a state-of-the-art air ionization and negative pressure ventilation system. The system eliminates bacteria, viruses, and foreign bodies from the air, with sensors working 24/7. The extensive project took place while their office was still operating on an emergency-only basis during the initial phase of closures and involved cutting holes in operatory floors to accommodate new negative airflow venting and replacing a large air handling unit on the practice’s roof.
This practice’s early actions and above-and-beyond attitude have paid off. While many practices have reported struggles with getting patients to reschedule appointments cancelled during periods of shutdown, MPDG has been thriving with a jam-packed schedule and a full patient backlog. This hasn’t been an accident—MPDG has been putting out new messaging to the community about changes they’re making to slow the spread of COVID-19 as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition and comfort nervous patients. Announcing the new HVAC system has not only made existing patients feel safer, they’ve taken on many new patients, many of whom cite the air filtration system as their reason for booking an appointment.
How has your practice responded?
While some of the practices featured above have taken creative actions in the interest of mitigating COVID risk, it’s exciting to see the many ways individual dental practices have risen to the challenge, each doing more than what’s expected of them by industry authorities. Now more than ever, patients want to know what actions dental practitioners are taking to keep them safe, so it’s important to keep COVID protocols front and center at every stage of the patient information search, featuring prominently on practice websites and other materials. As patients weigh opportunities for seeking care safely, this information can truly make the difference between a new patient and a missed opportunity.