P.E.I. dentists prepare to see patients — but emergencies only

Dentists on P.E.I. are preparing to see patients again, but just for emergencies, as restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually eased.

Dentists will be wearing more personal-protective equipment when they return to work

Children are among the most vulnerable for dental care, which is why many publicly funded, more universal models around the world cater to them.
Your trip to the dental chair is going to look a lot different than it used to, when dentists start reopening clinics later this month. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Dentists on P.E.I. will be allowed to reopen for business in a couple of weeks — but your trip to the dental chair will be much different than it was before.

Starting off, dentists will only be doing emergency procedures when they go back to work later this month.

Emergencies mean "pain, swelling, infection, trauma, for instance," said Dr. Michael Connolly, a Charlottetown dentist and president of the Dental Association of P.E.I.

Dentists are included in Phase 2 of the easing of restrictions first imposed in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while dental clinics are allowed to open on May 22, it is not mandatory for them to do so.

Dr. Michael Connolly says dentists will have extra personal-protective equipment when they return, including face shields and gowns. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

"I've heard that some offices will definitely open and dentists are anxious and excited to get back to work, and other offices will not," Connolly said. 

Limited treatment options

Currently, two centralized clinics in Charlottetown are offering emergency services, like extractions. Patients are diagnosed over the phone and then directed to one of those clinics.

"We are still limited to treatment of dental emergencies," he said. "Functionally, not much different than what's going on now." 

Dentists won't be using any tools that could send the virus into the air for the foreseeable future. 

That limits a patient's options to managing pain with medication until they can schedule a procedure, or having the dentist remove the tooth.

"Unfortunately it involves potentially losing a tooth that you might not normally lose," said Connolly. 

Physical distancing

When the dental clinics do reopen, there will be new precautions to keep everyone safe, including physical distancing.

Patients will wait in their cars in the parking lot until the dentist calls them to come inside, said Connolly.

Dentists will also be wearing personal-protective equipment (PPE), such as gowns and face shields, in addition to their normal protective gear. 

When dental offices start to open on May 22, don't expect to get a routine cleaning. They'll be taking emergency cases only. (Submitted by Michael Connolly)

Phase 3 of the plan is scheduled to begin on June 12. After that date, dental clinics will be allowed to expand their scope of practice to urgent procedures, but what that includes is still being worked out.

"We don't have a firm definition on emergency urgent care yet," said Connolly. "Right now we're trying to find what is urgent care, what procedures can be safely done in the dental office. Can we use aerosols or not.

"We hope that at each stage the door gets opened a little bit more and a little bit more, until we get back to a full-on dental practice."

Hygienists have later return 

Dental hygienists will not be returning to work just yet — their association said they hope to get back to work in Phase 4.

Heather Cassidy, president of the P.E.I. Dental Hygienists' Association, said members are looking forward to that happening. 

Heather Cassidy, president of the P.E.I. Dental Hygienists' Association, says her group is working with the dental association to make sure the return to work can be done safely. (Submitted by Heather Cassidy)

"We know that we will be protected and we will not go back until the PPE is available to us," she said. 

Hygienists will be wearing extra PPE, much like the dentists, and are working with the dental association to make sure that when everyone gets back to work, it can be done safely.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

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Travis Kingdon is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. He moved to the Island from Toronto in the spring of 2019.