MERIDEN — Even though dentists have been given the green light to reopen for elective procedures, some delayed opening due to a lack of personal protective equipment.
Hyman and Mamber Dentistry had been open for emergency services since March, but expanded to full services Monday. They could have opened May 20, but weren’t able to get enough personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“My first priority was I wasn’t going to open until I could do it safely to my staff and me and my patients,” Dr. David Hyman said.
Even now, Hyman said the practice only has enough to last about a month.
For weeks, Hyman said he would take one or two emergency appointments per day and then spend “the better part of every day on the phone” with every vendor he could think of, trying to get equipment.
Dentistry is one of the most vulnerable professions for coronavirus because the patient cannot physically wear a mask or any face coverings and COVID-19 is known to spread primarily through respiratory droplets delivered from coughing, sneezing or talking.
“We’re about 12 inches from their mouths … We have to be that much more safe,” Hyman said.
While patients cannot cover up, dental hygienists don full protective gear. They are advised to wear an N95 mask, surgical mask, face shield, glasses or goggles, surgical cap or head covering, full gowns and disposable gloves.
Hyman said it’s not easy working with all that gear on and they do require more time than usual in between patients to disinfect and change into clean PPE.
The Connecticut State Dental Association has been helping practices get supplies by ordering in bulk and then selling to those who need it.
“Over the course of the past week ... approximately 900 of our actively practicing member dentists have placed orders for the N95 respirators acquired by the CSDA,” association president Tam Le said in a statement to members.
The American Dental Association is also offering a toolkit for dentists.
Since mid-March — when the governor mandated all “non-essential” businesses to close — dentists were advised to limit operations to emergencies only. Hyman felt it was important to treat emergencies, because otherwise those patients would end up in already busy hospitals.
On May 18, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office released “best practices” for dentist offices planning to begin routine appointments.
Hyman said his practice has been in Meriden, now at 130 E. Main St., for 70 years, since his father started it. When the state shut down, he had to lay off the staff, which he said was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do.
“I pledged to them that I wasn’t going to open until I could get the equipment to keep them safe,” he said.
Although he feels safe expanding operations with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, state, and the American Dental Association, Hyman knows there is still risk of exposure, particularly when changing into new PPE.
As dangerous as it is, Hyman knows it’s nothing compared to the nurses and doctors that are still face to face with the coronavirus everyday.
“God bless those people and if they can do it, we can do it,” Hyman said. Have an appointment?
Visiting your dentist will look different now, in many ways.
Offices will likely have you wait in your car until they are ready and then screen you outside with questions and a temperature check.
Magazines and toys for kids won’t be out in the office and there probably won’t be a coat rack or refreshments. There may be Plexiglas at the reception desk. You are asked not to bring anyone along.
The screening will include questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms, like shortness of breath or a cough, and whether you’ve traveled outside the country recently or been exposed to anyone with the virus.
Doctors can decide whether to see you based on your answers.
Patients should wear a face mask at all times unless directed by their doctor.