Coronavirus: Alberta dental hygienists, assistants raising alarm over reopening

As dentist offices begin to reopen across Alberta, there are growing concerns about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We gave a lot of our [personal protective equipment] away when we were told to support our front-line workers,” Melanie Johnston-Dore, a registered dental hygienist, told Global News on Saturday.

“Now we are scrambling to try to get orders filled.”

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A spokesperson with the Alberta government said it is “committed to helping [dentists and dental hygienists] have the proper PPE.”

The owner of The Edge Dental Hygiene Centre in Calgary said guidance from the colleges that oversee dentists, assistants and hygienists is unclear on how to provide treatments for non-emergency procedures, which are due to start across the province soon.

“With a dental hygiene treatment, we create a lot of aerosols. Trying to mitigate those aerosols and keep our patients safe and our staff and ourselves safe while we’re working is a real problem right now for everyone,” Johnston-Dore said.

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Currently, dental hygienists can only do hand-scaling, using a handheld, hook-like instrument. Rinsing is limited to using a cup.

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The Alberta Dental Association and College is working with colleges for hygienists and assistants to publish guidelines for reopening clinics, and the president said they are using the research that is available.

“We’re taking that and looking at what does the science say around prevention of the COVID-19 virus?” college president Dr. Troy Basarab told Global News. “And then also looking at the practicalities.

“We can make things so rigid that nobody has access to care and we don’t want that either. So we’re taking that balanced approach.”

The College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan is mandating that procedures producing aerosols be done in a sealed room and that the room is emptied for two hours between patients.

Guidance in Alberta doesn’t have the same precautions.

Increasing evidence that people without symptoms could be carrying the virus is another big concern for Johnston-Dore.

“We could have someone come in, pass all the prescreening, we perform our treatment, they leave, they call us a week later and say that they are now positive and sick with COVID-19,” she said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.