After a week of controversy and a grassroots campaign by dental hygienists, Governor Ned Lamont's office has released guidelines for dental offices to be reopened. The work was put together by a group of dentists, hygienists, educators and dental assistants.
Based on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dental offices were strongly advised to temporarily limit their practices to urgent and emergency dental care. Some offices had hoped to reopen on Wednesday, however a number of dental hygienists and assistants contacted the FOX61 and the Lamont administration asking for more guidance citing fear of infection.
While the CDC recommends dental offices do not return to conducting elective procedures, like cleanings, Connecticut is going against that advice.
“In Connecticut, we will follow what our Governor and our state officials consider safe for us to return,” said Dr. Tam Le, President of the Connecticut State Dental Association, Who was a member of the working group.
The guidance says each practice is required to provide Personal Protective Equipment for employees and ensure at least a two week supply, prior to expanding operations. This includes N-95 masks, which some dentists say are hard to come by.
“We want to make sure that you have the proper PPE before you go back and reopen,” Le said.
To maximize safety and sanitation, each appointment will be permitted at least an hour..and at least an additional 30 minutes for the hygienist or other clinician to fully clean and sanitize hygiene rooms, operatories and equipment.
“If everyone covers and puts those infection control practices in place, as they are supposed to do, I think all hygienists will feel pretty comfortable practicing,” said Marie Paulis of the
Amer. Dental Hygienists Association - CT, who was also a member of the team that crafted guidance.
As for a dental practice employee, who remains uncomfortable returning to work, there are exceptions.
Anybody who is over the age of 65 or has any medical conditions that would put you at higher risk of Covid,” said Paulis.
The guidelines also suggest staggering shifts of hygienists and assistants to reduce the potential exposure.
The Reopen CT Dental Subgroup guidance reiterates that, while these guidelines represent best practices, risks to patients and employees cannot be fully mitigated.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health put together a working group of dental professionals representing dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dentists. The group recently met through video conferencing over a five-day period, and reached a consensus on the final guidance document.
“Having representatives from each of these groups collaboratively develop these protocols was an important step forward so that all of their concerns could be heard and addressed,” Governor Lamont said.
Representatives on the working group included:
- Christian D. Andresen, MPH, CPH: Section Chief, Practitioner Licensing and Investigations, Connecticut Department of Public Health
- Anne Marie DeLessio-Matta, DMD: Pediatric Dental Associates of Southbury; President-Elect, Connecticut State Dental Association
- Sheila Fontanella, DA: Practicing Dental Assistant
- Peter S. Katz, DMD: Chairman, Connecticut State Dental Commission
- Tam Le, DMD: President, Connecticut State Dental Association
- Jennifer Mancini, RDH: Practicing Licensed Dental Hygienist
- Marion C. Manski, RDH, MS: Director, Fones School of Dental Hygiene; Associate Professor, College of Health Sciences, University of Bridgeport Health Sciences Center
- Marie R. Paulis, RDH, MSDH: Assistant Professor and Dental Hygiene Program Director, School of Health Sciences, University of New Haven
- Melissa Sipos, RDH: Practicing Licensed Dental Hygienist
- Thomas St. Louis, MSPH: Occupational Health Program Supervisor, Connecticut Department of Public Health