After receiving the go-ahead from the province and their regulatory college, as of this week Ontario dentists are once again allowed to provide all of the services they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, from emergency to elective procedures.
But the president of the Ontario Dental Association said that doesn’t mean it’s business as usual at Ontario dental offices.
Dr. Lesli Hapak, a dentist who practises out of Windsor, Ont., said because dentists have only been doing emergency dentistry since March at the directive of their regulatory college, there’s a substantial backlog of patients.
A worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment also limits the number of patients dentists can see in a day. Hapak said she's been able to procure a small stock of PPE for her office, but it won't last her very long.
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario has also issued a number of guidelines so that dentists can work safely in the pandemic.
Patients will notice a number of changes, which could include appointments being spaced out between patients to promote infection control and physical distancing, being screened for COVID-19 symptoms before your appointment, dental staff wearing more protective gear than normal, being asked to limit the number of people you bring with you, being asked to wait outside the dentist's office and call when you arrive, no magazines or toys in the waiting room, and bathrooms being closed to patient use.
Hapak said patients who have the most severe issues will be seen first — if you’re booking yourself in for a regular tooth cleaning and checkup, it may be some time before you get in.
“We need to get back to treating patients, because for some it’s becoming more of a medical issue,” she said. “What might have been a small issue at the beginning of the pandemic is now becoming something that is more emergent in nature.”
As always, she advises people who have a major dental issue to phone their dentist, and in the meantime, people should take good care of their teeth.
“Just as always, phone your dental office, and when you call, you will likely go through a screening questionnaire,” Hapak said. “Based on what your issue is and what your dental need might be they’ll triage how to go about getting you scheduled for an appointment.”
Hygienists have also received the go-ahead to resume their practice, but they will also change how they do their job for safety reasons.
Hapa said if people want to know what to expect when they go to the dentist's office, or for more information on dentistry and COVID-19, they should visit the Ontario Dental Association's website.