British Columbia

This is what a trip to the dentist could look like in B.C. when offices reopen

Dentists in B.C. are trying to figure out how they might reopen by May 19 as the province begins to loosen restrictions after flattening the infection curve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expect pre-appointment telephone screening and sparsely furnished waiting rooms

Dr. Nick Seddon is pictured at his dental office in Vancouver. The B.C. Dental Association's back-to-work task force is currently working with the provincial government on new guidelines to keep patients and staff safe when practices are able to reopen in mid-May. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Dentists across British Columbia are trying to figure out how to reopen their practices safely and when they do, you can expect some changes at your next appointment.

On March 23, the province recommended that all dental offices suspend non-emergency care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the curve has been flattened, the government has said dental work can resume as of May 19 and the B.C. Dentist Association's back-to-work task force is looking at how to do so safely.

Task force chair Dr. Alastair Nicoll said patients can expect to be screened over the phone for symptoms of the virus and anyone who is ill will be asked to wait until they are healthy. 

Appointment times will be staggered to ensure minimal people in the office at one time and waiting rooms will be kept sparse, with no magazines or children's toys and fewer chairs to ensure physical distancing. 

Nicoll said patients will also be called into the dental chair quicker to minimize wait-times and to manage the flow of people in and out. He also said administrative transactions will be reduced, such as paying bills which may be done virtually or via phone instead.

In cases where transactions are done at the counter, Nicoll said there will likely be plexiglass shields between administrative staff and patients.

PPE 'impossible' for dentists to find

The biggest problem to tackle, said Nicoll, is finding personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.

"It is virtually impossible to buy this stuff on the open market," said Nicoll Friday on The Early Edition.

Not only did Nicoll say there is the need for masks and gloves, both of which dentists have been using for decades, but now also for medical gowns.

"Our bodies become a surface that droplets can land on and that is why we will be using gowns as well," said Nicoll, adding that administration staff will also be wearing them when business resumes.

He said dentists have been scrambling to find PPE where they can but "the supply chain simply isn't there for dentists" because they have been critically needed for health-care workers.

"What we can do will be limited by how successful we are finding this stuff," said Nicoll.

After six weeks of no routine dental work for anyone in B.C, Nicoll said he is not sure exactly how long it will take to clear the backlog of patients but said those who need urgent treatment will be prioritized.

Dentist Dr. Nick Seddon has been doing emergency dental procedures for the last month and is gearing up for an increase in the number of patients he's allowed to see come May 19.

That number also depends on getting the right PPE. 

Dental clinics might not be able to see patients at all if they don't have the right gear in stock. The kind of PPE needed is still to be decided.

"We are limited in what we have left in our advance PPE, so hoping suppliers can provide something for us both in terms of mask and isolation robes and what have you," Seddon said.

"That's the biggest challenge that our supplies run dry and we can't see patients."

With files from The Early Edition and Bridgette Watson

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