Expert Pitch

Dentist available to discuss steps required to safety reopen dental practices during COVID-19 pandemic

Indiana University
1-May-2020 10:30 AM EDT, by Indiana University

Following Indiana Gov. Eric Holcolmb's signing of an executive order April 27 ending restrictions on elective medical procedures, as well as similiar measures occuring across other parts of the U.S., dental offices across the state of Indiana and beyond have begun to slowly reopen their doors to non-emergency procedures.

As the owner of a private dental practice in South Bend, Indiana, for the past 40 years, Dr. Harvey Weingarten, associate professor and associate dean of clinical affairs at the Indiana University School of Dentistry, is available to offer commentary on how dental practices can move forward in reopening their businesses while also maintaining the safety of their staff and patients.

"Honestly, the most important part of the safety protocol in dental practice should take place before a patient ever sets foot in your office," said Weingarten, whose own practice began limiting service to emergency procedures March 13. "The pre-appointment phone call is the time when you can make sure that your patients aren't experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or recently came into contact with anyone with an acute case of the disease."

In addition, Weingarten said that safety protocols first implemented by dental practices across the U.S. after the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s continue to provide a strong foundation for ensuring dental practitioners' safety during this new pandemic.

"The current challenge is adapting the infection control practices developed against bloodborne pathogens during HIV/AIDS to the novel coronavirus, which appears to spread through airborne particles called aerosols," he said. "In my practice, we're devoting two days to training staff members in the use of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, in order to guard against airborne pathogens. We're also considering new patient procedures to maintain social distancing in the office, such as asking patients to wait in their cars rather than the waiting room until they are called inside for their appointment."

Finally, Weingarten said that many dental practices will likely choose not to resume normal operations immediately. His practice, for example, will first reopen to non-emergency services such as chipped tooth repair and crown and dental prosthesis fittings May 4, with a return to routine care appointments, such as cleanings and six-month checkups, coming later based upon future conditions.

About Harvey Weingarten

Since 2019, Weingarten has served as chair of the board of directors of the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments, the nation's leading examination service for dental and dental hygiene licensure. He is also a member on the board of directors of the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and an advisor to the IU South Bend Health Sciences Board of Advisors. He is a past president of the Indiana State Board of Dentistry, where he helped align the organization with the North East Regional Board of Dental Examiners, now known as the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments.

Weingarten also serves as a consultant in forensic dentistry to the Special Crimes Unit of St. Joseph County and lectures throughout the Midwest on ethics and jurisprudence. He a fellow of the American and International College of Dentists and holds degrees from IU Bloomington and the IU School of Dentistry in Indianapolis.

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