How Erdenheim dental practice reacted to pandemic

by Elspeth Lodge
Posted 3/26/21

Dr. Stout has always followed CDC guidelines, and dentists already had strict protocols in place to navigate contagious viruses. Even after shutting down, Stout insists that she and her staff never missed a beat: “I just had to do the research,” she said. “It was new for everyone. We had nothing to go by.”

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How Erdenheim dental practice reacted to pandemic

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Chesheim Dental Associates in Erdenheim was open for half of the day on March 16, 2020, before deciding that it was “a must” to shut their doors due to the onslaught of Covid-19. Heeding advice from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Dental Association (ADA), the practice with patients from birth to 105 stayed shut for almost four months, except for emergencies.

“The pandemic blindsided us,” said Angela Stout, DMD, who specializes in pediatric, adolescent and special needs dentistry at the practice. “It was all about how are we going to avoid these aerosols and avoid the spread because it was so highly contagious.”

In the days leading up to the decision to close, Stout said her phone was “exploding.” She was communicating with a variety of dental professionals, including orthodontists, pediatric dentists and general dentists, who were all asking, “What are you doing? What should we do?” Stout believes that Covid scared a lot of dentists; not only were they in the thick of saliva and respiratory aerosols, but shutting down would often mean no income for employees who work at dental practices.

“I participated in hours of video meetings; I was in this building six days a week, sometimes seven, on Zoom calls ... my phone was exploding. And a lot of the local dentists were calling me left and right.”

Dr. Stout has always followed CDC guidelines, and dentists already had strict protocols in place to navigate contagious viruses. Even after shutting down, Stout insists that she and her staff never missed a beat: “I just had to do the research,” she said. “It was new for everyone. We had nothing to go by.”

When the practice closed during the initial stages of the pandemic, Dr. Stout ordered equipment to keep staff and patients safe. This meant creating negative pressure rooms, which help isolate airborne diseases by using external suction devices; the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was upgraded to incorporate High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, etc. Plexiglass was placed at the front desk and social distancing mats in the waiting areas.

Stout had enough PPE stashed away to be comfortable handling two emergency phone lines during the shutdown. There were many adult emergencies, such as broken teeth, fillings that fell out and infections, as well as many pediatric emergencies, in part because of kids not being in classrooms. What was new were virtual visits with patients via Skype and Zoom to evaluate the gravity of a patient's condition and determine whether they needed to be seen.

Not being considered “essential” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) meant that dentists were not supplied PPE by the government. There was even a point where dental suppliers could not provide PPE to dentists because “it all had to go to the medical side,” Dr. Stout said. “I don’t even remember how many weeks had gone by, but finally they changed the status nationally and in Pennsylvania.”

Dentists were finally considered “essential,” but the rule was that they had to have at least two weeks of PPE to reopen their practices: “So little by little, I was calling every dental supplier and medical supplier to get enough [PPE] that we could open,” said Dr. Stout. “and we finally opened the third week of June on an abbreviated schedule.”

Finally, in the second week of July, the practice opened up on their full schedule, and “the phone was ringing off the hook.” The practice was busy in July and August, but things slowed down in October when there was a slight spike in Covid numbers. Most people who work at the practice have now been vaccinated, and patients often call and ask if they have been.

A slew of cancellations came recently when the media reported on new strains of Covid: the South African strain, the Norwegian or European Strain. And often there will be cancellations surrounding certain age populations; a parent of a patient will call and say, “The South African strain really hits children,” so they wait to bring their child in.

Anxiety is personal to each person, says Stout, but people should consider keeping up with their routine cleanings, because what could be a simple fix can turn into a more advanced problem that will be harder to mend.

According to a press release from the American Dental Association in October, a study found that fewer than one percent of dentists nationwide had tested positive for Covid-19.

For more information, visit chesheim-dental.com

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