Dental offices in Washington state back open for cleanings, elective procedures

SPOKANE, Wash. — A big day for dental offices in Washington state. They can now open up and perform elective surgeries, cleanings and other routine check-ups.

This comes after a proclamation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee expired on Monday at noon. It’s been in effect since March. Prior, medical offices were only able to perform emergency care.

“We are now getting our patients in and we’re busy,” said Dr. Bret Johnson with Bret Johnson Orthodontics. “So we usually see patients about every eight weeks and we are definitely slammed full for at least the next eight weeks so it’s going to be pretty busy seeing patients that have to be rescheduled.”

To ensure the safety of patients and staff, offices are taking extra measures.

“We’ve had to do things such as temperature checks and screenings,” Johnson said. “One of our main things is screening and trying to keep people and staff who may be symptomatic out before they even get into the office. ”

Patients must fill out a COVID-19 patient disclosure form. It asks patients if they’ve tested positive or if they’re experiencing any symptoms.

Around the waiting room, patients won’t see many other patients. Instead, Johnson has set up balloon dummies. They’re dressed up in clothes and have faces drawn on them. He said he wanted to have a little bit of fun, despite the situation. His team also posted a fun video to explain their changes.

Beyond the waiting room, more changes.

“We actually had to go through our office and get ride of our game room so we can spread our chairs out to make sure we’re meeting social distancing requirements,” Johnson explained.

For staff members, they’re taking extra precautions as well.

“We are using either a level three or KN95 [masks], and we are also putting a level one over top of it and then disposing of those as well,” Johnson said.

The masks were provided to dentists across the state thanks to the Washington state Dental Association.

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During a briefing on Monday, Spokane County health officials talked about the particles that can get in a patient’s mouth, different than the droplets many have heard about with COVID-19.

“I am sure that after each individual is in the office, the area is going to be very heavily cleaned out afterwards,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, medical officer with Spokane County. “So I would say that nothing is absolute. Everything is a theoretically concern, but I think given all the precautions being put in place, I would say the concerns are not warranted at this time.”

To address the concern, Johnson implemented a change in procedures.

“We are using high volume suctions and more diligently to make sure any aerosolized particles are being removed,” he explained. “Aside from switching masks and increasing suction and being much more visible and diligent in wiping non-clinical surfaces down, the treatment of the patients is very similar, except we want them to feel safe as well.”

During the closure, Johnson said one of the hardest parts for his patients was to see if they had an issue that needed immediate attention.

“As we’re getting back being able to see patients again, we’re finding patients that haven’t been seen in three of four months that did have something that broke that now is going to result in longer treatment time or permanent damage to the teeth,” he explained.