N.S. emergency dental clinics following strict guidelines during coronavirus pandemic

Dental clinics were among some of the first places to be shut down in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. Public Health officials singled out the practice due to its high risk of spreading droplet-spread viruses like COVID-19.

“The practice of dentistry in particular will often actually produce aerosols that place dentists and patients and staff at risk for either transmission or being exposed to COVID-19,” said Dr. Ben Davis, dean of Dalhousie’s faculty of Dentsitry.

The transmission through aerosols is especially high risk during even routine procedures, including the use of the dental drill.

“So the dental drill produces air and water, and that will produce a fine mist that will carry the virus up into the air,” explained Davis.

“It’s invisible and that fine mist or aerosol can be breathed in, or come into contact with mucus membranes and we know that is one way the virus can be transmitted.”

For now, during the pandemic all routine dental procedures are being put on hold but there are some dental emergencies that will require attention. Without clinics, those emergencies could end up in emergencies rooms. To prevent that, the province has allowed a number of emergency dental clinics to open.

Currently eight clinics are open for dental emergencies:

  • Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry, Halifax
  • VG OMFS, Halifax
  • IWK, Halifax
  • Citadel Oral Surgery, Halifax
  • The Lakes Oral Maxillofacial Surgery, Fall River
  • Riverside Dental, Syndey River
  • Southwest Dental, Yarmouth
  • WKM Health Centre, Berwick

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Patients requiring emergency care are asked to first contact their own dentist, who will then arrange an appointment at one of the emergency clinics.

How it works

A number of procedures and practices have been put in place to keep patients, dentists and staff safe.

At the Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry on University Avenue, patients are being asked to come by themselves whenever possible. They are to call when they arrive and will be greeted at a side entrance, which is separate from where staff enter. Common spaces used by patients are separate from those used by staff.

The patient will be given a mask to wear and hand sanitizer to use. They will review COVID-19 symptoms and staff will take their basic vital signs, including their temperature.

The patient will then be led to one of 12 enclosed operating rooms. Each room is well ventilated, and keeps the aerosols from spreading outside the room. Once a procedure is finished that room will be closed and left empty for several hours to allow any moisture in the air to fall to the ground. It will then be thoroughly cleaned before being used again.

“We are taking great care to make sure we are protecting everyone who comes into our facility as well as our staff,” said Dr. Chris Lee, the emergency clinic’s director.

All dentists wear personal protective equipment while treating patients and have N95 masks on hand for when needed.

Staff and dentists are told to treat every patient as if they are COVID-19 positive, and while no one has had to treat a patient who has tested positive, the capability is there.

“If someone has a true dental emergency that can’t wait, and they are COVID-19 positive, we certainly have the necessary facility and personal protective equipment to be able to safely manage those patients,” said Davis.

Nova Scotia at the forefront

The dentists at Dalhousie were among the first to develop safe practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and have helped to train dentists at the other emergency clinics in Nova Scotia.

The province has also been a leader, nationwide, with dentists sharing what they’ve learned with other provinces as they work to develop their own guidelines.

“We were pretty far ahead of the curve in terms of provinces doing this,” said Lee.

“We have researchers involved in developing protocols, and so that material has been used, and a lot of other provinces have used that as a guideline.”


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