Manitoba

Manitoba dentists prepare to open Monday for urgent matters only

Dental offices are preparing to reopen on Monday. But it won’t be business as normal for the practices, and patients without urgent needs will likely not be seen.

Too soon to have patients get their teeth cleaned: dental association

Bruce McFarlane, an orthodontist who runs Winnipeg Village Orthodontics in Grant Park, says patients shouldn’t feel uneasy when coming to a dental office. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Dentists across Manitoba are preparing for the "new normal" — wearing N95 masks and face shields, and only seeing a limited number of patients with urgent needs. 

Starting Monday, dental offices will be able to be reopen under the plan announced by the province Wednesday to allow some services and businesses put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic to restart.

Dentists who do reopen, though, must follow new provincial guidelines meant to protect staff and patients from getting COVID-19.

The measures include screening patients for any COVID-19 symptoms before appointments, implementing physical distancing strategies in waiting rooms, and having everyone use hand sanitizer once inside.

"We recognize that a lot of Manitobans have been waiting patiently to have their dental care needs managed and dentists want to get to their urgent issues first," said Dr. Marc Mollot, president of the Manitoba Dental Association.

"The analogy I would use would be … more like a dimmer switch on a light, rather than a light switch," he said, with dental services gradually phased in.

The association is telling dentists to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, eye protection, gloves, booties and gowns — gear he says is in short supply right now, in part because dentists donated it to front-line workers early on in the pandemic. 

Dr. Marc Mollot is the president of the Manitoba Dental Association. (CBC)

Mollot said patients who are looking to see a dentist for simpler appointments like cleanings will have to wait, and won't be seen by dentists Monday. 

He said anything that could cause pain or infection is considered urgent and can be dealt with when offices reopen.

Dentists with smaller offices will face challenges

For orthodontists, that could mean seeing a patient who has braces with a loose wire or broken bracket.

"The patients who are wearing braces are going to be a considerably higher priority than those wearing aligners, because more can go wrong with the patients that have things stuck to their teeth," said Dr. Bruce McFarlane, an orthodontist who runs Winnipeg Village Orthodontics in Grant Park.

WATCH | Manitoba dentists prepare for limited reopening:

Manitoba dentists gear up to reopen Monday 2:06

McFarlane last saw patients in person on March 17. He's getting ready to see fewer patients than normal when he reopens, and is getting personal protective gear ready for his staff.

But he said patients shouldn't feel uneasy when coming to a dental office.

"Dentists are scientists first, and we deal with infection and infected processes all day long, forever and ever." 

McFarlane remembers when HIV first appeared. He worked through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and is reflecting on that experience as he gears up to handle COVID-19.

"At that point, it was thought that was going to absolutely change and disrupt everything, and it did," he said.

In dentistry practices, though, some of those changes were for the better, he says.

"We adapted … and we continue to upgrade and adapt," he said, and now, "going to your dentist is going to be one of the safer places you can go to."  

He said patients in his office will be distanced. Only a fraction of his 11 chairs will be used and clients who need any work with water spray will be placed in an enclosed room that will then be shut down for two hours.

"I feel a little bit worse for the dentist that maybe has one or two chairs and can't be that adaptive."

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, says the province is letting health professions figure out the safest way to reopen. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The guidelines for dentists from the Manitoba provincial government are less stringent than what the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan is advising as that province moves forward with reopening.

The Saskatchewan college is requiring patients to have their temperature taken. If drilling is required, the college asks dentists to do the procedure in an enclosed room with a closeable door. The operating room must remain closed for two hours after to allow dust in the room to settle before the room can be cleaned.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said Thursday the province is letting health professions decide the safest way to reopen.

"We are easing our restrictions, but we're not directing the professions of others," he said.

"We can certainly be engaged, we can certainly work with those organizations to decide on how they feel best to practise within their profession, but it wasn't for us to direct them on what procedures that they should or shouldn't take."

McFarlane said he is just happy to get back to work and bring back some of his employees he's had to lay off. 

"It's been tough. I'm lucky that I have such great teams," he said. "They've been most understanding."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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