Dentistry During a Pandemic: A Patient’s Point of View





By Lexi Marino July 9, 2020

Graphic designer, dog-lover, and muncher of sweet potato fries.

Darina is on Zyris’ Marketing team, but when the day ends and she removes her creative cloak, she does every day human things like seeing the dentist.

As dental offices re-open, we thought it would be insightful to get a patient’s perspective on dental visits during a pandemic. On social media and in the news, we’re constantly reading articles about how we think patients feel amid Covid-19 when they go to medical appointment.

Rather than interviewing dentists, hygienists, assistants, etc. about their patients, we wanted to take a step back and talk colleague to colleague. This way, we could get a more practical perspective as to what one patient in particular, Darina, thought during her visit.

In this interview, we’ll focus on 3 key things dentists should keep top of mind when seeing patients post and during pandemic:

  1. The topic of aerosol reduction and whether or not patients understand this terminology. If they don’t, then should dentists, hygienists, and assistants bring this topic up during procedures ad hoc?
  2. Patient’s initial thoughts on the way dentists look covered head to toe in PPE – is it scary or somewhat comforting?
  3. Softening the “storyline” about Covid-19 – ways to make your patients feel comfortable about your office’s safety. 

Let’s dive in.

New Look, Who This? Head to Toe in PPE

Lexi Marino:

When you went to the dentist, did you notice anything different about the office?

Darina Lapkova:

Yeah. There was hand sanitizer everywhere and sanitary wipes that were offered to every patient that comes in and signs in. There were new pens and used, and the clean pen were in separate containers.

Also, the dental assistant or office manager measured my temperature as soon as I got close to the counter. I was required to wear a mask and also the seats in the waiting were spread apart further than they normally are.

Lexi Marino:

What did the office manager look like if there was one there at that time?

Darina Lapkova:

Yeah, so the whole staff was wearing an N95.

Lexi Marino:

Did they have gowns on too and everything?

Darina Lapkova:

No. The front desk did not have gowns.

Lexi Marino:

Did your dentist go over the new safety protocols with you during your appointment in relation to COVID-19 and if so, what were they?

Darina Lapkova:

I filled out a questionnaire as soon as I signed in that asked me if I’ve been traveling or have been exposed to anyone that has COVID-19. Also, the form asked if I have a fever or I have had any symptoms.

Then, they required patients to wear my mask even when I was placed in the room to wait for the dentist and I was not supposed to take off the mask until he started to work on me. The dentist had a full gown. He had an N95 masks, a face shield, and gloves.

Lexi Marino:

Interesting. How did you feel about wearing a mask all the way up until the procedure started? Did you think that that was strange or did you feel comfortable with that?

Darina Lapkova:

You know, I was a bit confused because either way I was going open my mouth and the dentist was going to be exposed to my breath as soon as I took off the mask. So, I didn’t really see the point of me waiting in there, alone with the mask still on – it didn’t make me feel safe.

It seems like they were taking all the appropriate percussions for the virus that could be potential for patients and staff.

Lexi Marino:

Okay, cool. Do you feel safe going to the dentist or any of your doctors after this appointment? And just in general with COVID-19 in the midst right now?

Darina Lapkova:

You know, it’s a little off putting seeing everyone geared up like that. It’s kind of scary but then at the end of the day, when you realize that they’re doing this to keep you safe and themselves safe, then yeah, it does. It does make me feel good that I won’t get sick whenever I go to the dentist or the doctors, because that’s counterintuitive. That’s not why you’re going to see these people. So, I do feel safe as a patient.

Lexi Marino:

That was really good answer. Can you give us an example of the things your dentist did to make you feel safe in the chair and what makes you keep coming back to them?

Darina Lapkova:

The dentist did make me feel a little bit more comfortable as he walked in the office and in the way that he was dressed up, just explaining why he’s wearing a face shield and why he’s wearing the gloves so that it put everything in perspective and made me realize that this is for my own good. Before I even went into the room of the assistants really checked with each other to see which room was disinfected before I even went in. So, I felt good about that and I didn’t want to sit in a chair that someone previously sat in like 5 minutes before me. That made me feel comfortable.

Talking Aerosols with Patients, Is This Necessary?

Lexi Marino:

Did your dentist talk to you about aerosols and their process to capture them? Was that even a topic of conversation? Also, as a patient, would you want your dentist to talk to you about aerosols? Have you been reading things in the news from a patient perspective that talk about dental aerosols or the Coronavirus spreading through aerosols or anything like that?

Darina Lapkova:

I mean, if I had no knowledge of it and was just like reading the articles that I have read outside of work, I wouldn’t even think that these aerosols from my mouth are staying in the air within in the dental office and potentially the next person after me could get sick. So, I feel like if the doctor was to talk to me about it, I would get a little bit freaked out.

Lexi Marino:

I’m going to go off script a little, but I think it’s important to build on this. So, there’s going to be people like you, right? They are sitting in the dental chair and they’re like, “I don’t want to hear about the Coronavirus or aerosols or anything.” And then there’s going to be people who have been reading the news all the time. And they’re like, “Tell me everything there is to know about COVID-19. How are you keeping me safe from a patient’s perspective?” What would you want your dentist to tell you to make you feel comfortable if you were that person who was super worried and freaking out because of this thing that you’ve heard called aerosols, and you think they’re floating around in the air?

Darina Lapkova:

I mean, honestly, I think if I felt so worried about it, I would call prior to even being in the dentist chair. As soon as they give me some information about it, that they’re doing everything they can. Such as using ventilation systems, they’re like reducing your aerosols by using certain tools, like the Isolite or other suction tools with high volume. Right? However, them distributing that information to me prior to me even being there, I think that’s going to make me feel better about actually going into the dentist office rather than me sitting there and like freaking out, like, “Okay, tell me everything that you know about these aerosols and what not.”

Softening the “We’re Keeping You Safe” Storyline

Lexi Marino:

Do you follow your dentist on social media and keep up with them that way? Do you think social media is a good tool for people to keep up with dentists and see what they’re doing for safety? Like what do you think is a good way besides just calling them directly? Because they’re so busy right now.

Darina Lapkova:

I think emails from my dentist. Looking back at, when I got my wisdom teeth removed, my dentist, the surgeon sent me like this little nice envelope of a card in there. I actually opened that with like a lot of other mail. Like promotions and whatnot. I don’t even look at those. I just throw it away. However, if it was like a nice little card that was like custom made to me and like lists all the things, they’re doing for a COVID-19 that would be nice. It would really make me think that my dentist really cares about my safety and they really are doing everything they can to like to get us back in there and help us out with dental issues as a patient.

Lexi Marino:

So, dentists are talking a lot about how the costs for protective equipment gear are going up. There’s a few news stories about this right now. And there are some dentists that are charging in order to stay up to par with their business or they’re thinking about upping their fees to patients in order to supplement for PPE surcharges. How do you feel about that as a patient and working in the dental industry? I’m just, I’m curious.

Darina Lapkova:

Honestly, going to the dentist is expensive as it is. Like I have never had insurance cover the big chunk of my treatments. Whenever I go in, it’s usually not just a checkup. I always have like a root canal. Like let’s redo those five root canals. It’s always huge and then after everything has been done, I just feel such an empty feeling in my pocket.

Knowing that they’re going to charge patients more for like a checkup and like these other procedures, it’s going to really make me think twice before I go as soon as soon as possible to see them, rather than just like, let me wait it out and see how bad this gets and then I’ll go. So, it doesn’t make me feel too good about it.

Lexi Marino:

Last question, what’s your biggest piece of advice for assistants, hygienists, dentists, everybody in the office when it comes to talking to patients – what would you say is the most important thing that they have to focus on relating to COVID-19?

Darina Lapkova:

I think the most important thing is just trying to make patients feel comfortable in this new environment. To me, that’s not really focusing on all the negatives, like the aerosols, but trying to come up with the softer more approachable storyline. They should have a storyline and a protocol for every patient when they come in. Just tell them the we’re going to take good care of you and we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe and you’ll be in good hands.

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