Some dental hygienists are worried about welcoming patients back

SEATTLE, Wash., -- As part of Governor Inslee's reopening plan, dental offices are preparing to welcome patients back as early as Monday, May 18th however some hygienists are concerned about returning back to work with a lack of directives and proper personal protective equipment.

Dr. Dennis Bradshaw is the President of the Washington State Dental Association. He says offices that do not have the proper PPEs should refrain from doing elective procedures and stick to emergencies only.  He says,  “We recommend to all offices that they follow the highest level of PPE that is recommended for the procedures that they’re doing.”

However, a recommendation is not cutting it for some dental hygienists who are being told they are expected to return to work May 18th they are waiting for rules not guidelines.

Jennifer Zbaraschuk is the President of the Washington Dental Hygienist Association and she says they are asking for a baseline.

“We want to make sure we at least have those minimum standards so that we’re protecting everybody and those who still wish to go above and beyond that great, that’s fabulous, but we need to make sure that we’re protecting everybody at least at a minimum standard.”

The Dental Quality Assurance Commission was set to meet Friday May 9th but the virtual meeting was cancelled because of technical issues. Tuesday, the commission announced they would reconvene Friday May 15th .

Nancy Kaley, a registered dental hygienist says they need answers before May 18th,  "So we know, is it safe? Do we all have what we need to go back to work? ... I don’t know I just, scary is what I keep coming up with, concern, major concern.”

Kaley is worried that even with regulations and the proper protective gear, safety could still be an issue in dental offices,  “In dentistry, most of our dental procedures produce aerosols, and as dental practitioners we are 12 to 18 inches away from the persons mouth, producing aerosols. We know now that these aerosols are in the air for 2 to 3 hours... Aerosols they’re airborne droplets, and they contain saliva, blood and pathogens including COVID.”

Zbaraschuk echoes that concern, “It’s not just hygienists that are at risk. Everybody in the dental office is at risk. Because once this virus gets into the air, it’s hard to contain.”

The concern then becomes how to stay safe in that environment when personal protective equipment as PPEs are limited across the healthcare industry, “So what is available? So that supply chain has been an issue for hospitals and front line workers and it is also an issue for us as well.”

Dr. Bradshaw says a lot of offices aren't prepared because they did the good Samaritan thing, “Many offices don’t have the necessary PPE because they donated everything that they had to hospitals to help them get through the crunch that they were asked to do and now that PPE isn’t available to them to work.”

Dr. Bradshaw says they are working with FEMA nationally and at a state level to get the necessary PPEs.

The DQAC is also expected to discuss whether dental offices can test for COVID-19 using a swab, similar to how a strep test is conducted.

The commission is set to meet Friday.