The last nine months have been filled with snacking and stress, and that’s never more obvious than when dentists look inside the mouths of their patients.
“A part of the pandemic that we’ve seen a lot is that we’ve had cracked teeth and broken teeth, and this can come with clinching and grinding when people are under a lot of stress,” Dr. Brittney Craig said.
Craig owns a family dental practice in Tallahassee. In May, Governor Ron DeSantis gave the OK for dental offices like Craig’s to reopen for the regular treatment of patients. Since reopening, Craig, along with thousands of dentists across the state, have worked to treat patients under the conditions imposed by the pandemic.
The reopening process hasn’t been easy, and dentists can tell what their patients did during quarantine.
“Some patients are showing up with more tooth decay, even though tooth decay usually takes a longer period to materialize,” Dr. Bert Hughes said, “We are finding that some patients are showing up with more, I guess from snacking on sugary materials.”
At Hughes’ family dental practice in Gainesville, he works to ensure that people feel safe coming into the office. He follows the guidelines laid out by the American Dental Association and the Florida Dental Association.
Dental offices throughout the state no longer allow people to sit in waiting rooms. COVID-19 screenings are done before visits, and fewer people are coming into the office on a daily basis. Commonly touched surfaces are also wiped down between patients using different chemicals multiple times.
Patients, dentists and dental hygienists alike are required to wear masks while inside. The heightened use of personal protection equipment within the state and other industries has hurt dentistry on the business front.
“One of the bigger challenges that we’re having and health care as a whole is that we don’t really work on the supply and demand curve, but yet we’re subject to that supply and demand, so our PPE is costing us four to seven times as much for the basic things that we’ve been using,” Hughes said.
The increased prices of personal protective equipment hurt the bottom line for smaller dental offices after their revenues were already affected by the mandatory closures in March. While many offices strived to maintain their pricing, it has become increasingly difficult to juggle the costs of running a small business with the needs of patients.
Despite the cost, dentists’ primary goal is to provide the care that their patients need. This meant creating new avenues for communication and services during the pandemic.
Dr. Andrew Brown runs his orthodontic practice in Orange Park. He also serves as the president of the Florida Dental Association. During the 10 weeks when patients couldn’t come into the office, he used telehealth to make sure patients kept up with their treatments. He used phone calls, Zoom, and FaceTime to discuss education and hygiene issues with kids and their parents.
Now that offices have reopened, he’s still keeping up the personalized communication.
Brown knows that some people do not feel comfortable coming into the office yet, or bringing their kids. His office makes an effort to call those patients and invite them in to tour the office and see what the new cleaning and care protocols look like amid the pandemic.
“We live in these communities,” Brown said. “We want to keep everyone safe.”
Dentists continue to urge those who have not been in for their usual check-ups and cleanings during the pandemic to make appointments. According to them, dental care and oral health are essential to overall health.
“Those patients that have delayed treatments have come back with greater cavities and inflammation of their gums or gum disease that require more advanced treatment,” Dr. Cesar Sabates said.
Sabates owns a practice in Coral Gables, and he was recently voted president-elect of the American Dental Association.
Instead of going to the dentist, some people have opted for at-home treatments for whitening or tooth alignment. Dentists generally say at-home treatments are a bad idea.
“I have had patients that have done in-home whitening treatments that have large decay or large cavities in their teeth,” Sabates said, “That has caused them to need root canals because the nerve was damaged by these treatments.”