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Dental Clinics Facing PPE Shortages After Donating To Frontline Medical Workers

A demtist sits across a table from a patient with a teeth model.

Many dental offices in Florida donated personal protective equipment like masks to frontline medical care workers when state orders limited them to just emergency care during the coronavirus shutdown.

Now that they are starting to reopen, dentists are struggling to get needed PPE.

Rudy Liddell, a Brandon dentist, president of the Florida Dental Association and co-chair of the American Dental Association's Advisory Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery, said it's difficult to get FDA-approved masks because dental offices had not been given priority on a list held by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's not we want to be given it back or anything,” Liddell said. “We want to be able to purchase it. But the distribution of all the PPE was turned over to FEMA, and FEMA has been a little bit slow to recognize that dentists are now higher up on that list."

Liddell is hopeful the shortage will be resolved in the next couple weeks.

RELATED: What Closure Of Dental Clinics For Coronavirus Means To Patients

Meanwhile, the national task force he’s helping to oversee is guiding dental offices on how to reopen following state shutdowns that restricted dentistry to urgent care and emergency procedures.

Like other medical facilities, they’re doing COVID-19 screenings that include temperature checks and asking a list of questions about symptoms and travel.

Their guidelines also include calling for masks, goggles and face shields when dentists may have only worn paper masks before, and encourage dentists to use hand-scaling techniques for cleaning plaque off teeth, using high velocity suction to reduce backslash, and using rubber dental dams when possible.

Liddell said dentists are well-equipped to handle respiratory viruses despite working close to people’s mouths and noses.

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"Dentists have always been at the forefront of office sanitation, disinfection and sterilization ever since the AIDS epidemic back in the late 80s,” Liddell said. “And it’s not the first respiratory virus we've dealt with. There was the original SARS virus, the MERS virus, swine flu, bird flu and H1N1.”

Dr. Zack Kalarickal of Wesley Chapel Dentistry said despite the industry grappling with PPE shortages and inflated prices for protective equipment, “I feel that dental offices are among the safest places you could go right now.”

“We've always had universal precautions. We always presumed that anybody can be sick at any time. And our responsibility is to make sure we protect ourselves and stay healthy, so that we can help our patients staying healthy as well.”

Part of helping patients stay well, Kalarickal said, is helping to divert them away from emergency rooms that were overburdened even pre-pandemic, and not equipped for proper dental care.

He’s an advisor to a now global platform developed by a Massachusetts dentist Dr. Abdul Abdulwaheed called Dental Cupid that connects people to dental care in their area.

It launched in early April and touts having enrolled more than 10,000 providers in the United States, Canada and Australia, and diverted more than 4,000 people away from emergency rooms during the shutdowns when some dental offices closed completely.

“We also worked with emergency management divisions in counties and states around the country, so that those emergency management officials could give this information to emergency departments,” Kalarickal said.

“Often, if (dental) patients end up in the emergency room, it's difficult for them to get definitive care for their pain issue. They might get some antibiotics, they may get some pain meds, and that's not the solution. They need a dentist that can provide a procedure, and then protect them from that environment and keep hospital resources available for the COVID-19 crisis that we're facing.”

The Florida Dental Association offers a similar service for state residents and the database can be found here.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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