Saskatoon

'Unbelievable': Some Sask. dentists outraged province's state of emergency doesn't ban optional dentistry

The province’s chief medical health officer says optional dental work will not be banned in Saskatchewan, despite the province having declared a state of emergency and suspended all optional hospital medical procedures.

Chief medical health officer suspends elective hospital procedures, but says dentists can make own decisions

Some Sask. dentists are criticizing the response to COVID-19 by the province. (Shutterstock)

The province's chief medical health officer says optional dental work will not be banned in Saskatchewan, despite the province having declared a state of emergency and suspended all optional hospital medical procedures.

Some experts and dentists had asked chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab to take action and were furious to hear that he will not.

"Oh my God. This is unbelievable. He needs some education," one Regina dentist said following the announcement.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Saskatchewan doubled Wednesday to 16. Premier Scott Moe and Shahab held a news conference to discuss the state of emergency.

They said all elective medical procedures and hospital tests would be suspended. There was no mention of dental procedures, which many say are even more risky, given the close and frequent contact with open mouths and "aerosolization."

Asked if optional dental work would be banned, Shahab said no.

"We're willing to work with [dentists] ... I don't think it's appropriate to write orders for everything and everyone," Shahab said.

Shahab said he's comfortable with the position of the Saskatchewan College of Dental Surgeons, which suggests dentists "consider reducing or suspending" optional work.

On Wednesday, one dentist called that position "wishy-washy." Another said it was irresponsible and dangerous. They said dental work is one of the riskiest activities imaginable for spreading the novel coronavirus and that anything short of an outright ban on elective work is unacceptable.

"When a high-speed dental instrument goes into someone's mouth, it aerosolizes everything," said one Saskatoon dentist.

CBC News spoke to four Saskatchewan dentists from Saskatoon and Regina. All spoke on condition their names were not used because of what they're calling a "gag order."

An internal memo sent this week by the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan prohibits dentists from speaking publicly through the media and orders thems to forward all requests to the college "for consistent, accurate and up-to-date messaging."

The dentists are worried some colleagues may not scale things back. They say the clause in their "pandemic insurance" is only activated if they are ordered to close. It's unclear whether their insurer would cover them or their staff if they shut down voluntarily.

"There are a lot of payments to make. These offices are essentially mini-hospitals," said one dentist.

The dentists that spoke to CBC want work limited to emergencies only. They also called for it to only be performed out of a small number of locations, such as the University of Saskatchewan or Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

Asked if the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan is considering a ban, registrar Dr. Bernie White said it is "checking in with the chief medical health officer on a regular basis and we're processing the information as we get it, and that could change at almost any time."

Another professional body, the Saskatchewan Dental Hygeinists Association, does not have the power to make an order, but issued a statement Wednesday that it "strongly recommends all elective dental hygiene services be suspended immediately."

The Saskatchewan government has the power to make orders to the dental industry. No one from the government was available for an interview Wednesday morning.

Cheryl Camillo, a professor of health policy at the University of Regina and the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, said governments have historically been reluctant to tell health professionals what to do, fearing political backlash. But the COVID-19 crisis is a unique and urgent situation, she said.

"This pandemic is spreading rapidly. We're at a really critical moment where we need to flatten the curve," Camillo said.

"It's time to put the politics aside."

This week, the province's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab ordered all those who attended the 2020 Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver to self-isolate after several cases of COVID-19 were linked to the event. Sources say dozens of Sask dentists, hygienists and sales reps attended the conference.

Two of the eight cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan as of Tuesday were found in people who had attended the conference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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