Many people have been nervous about going back to their dentist for their regular checkups during the pandemic. However, local dentists say they take a lot of precautions to make a visit to their offices safe.

Dental hygienists have been considered the most at-risk of any profession in the U.S. and two other dental occupations are right behind.

According to data from the Occupational Information Network, dental hygienists are the most at risk of all professions for contracting the virus, dental assistants are third and dentists are fourth on the list.

Because of that, dental offices have taken extra preventative measures to protect their employees as well as their patients.

Roseburg dentist Dr. Alexis Atchinson says aerosols are a major factor in the transfer of the coronavirus, so her office has installed several precautions to help prevent the the disease from spreading through the air.

“The virus is in aerosol form, so we’re doing a variety of things to keep the air clean and limit the amount of aerosol in the air in the first place,” Atchinson said.

Because the coronavirus is in aerosol form, the office is not polishing teeth and not using the ultrasonic tools that knock the bacteria and debris off the teeth until further notice.

“We have engineering practices that limit the amount of any aerosol that we’re creating,” she said.

When using aerosols in procedures, a rubber dam is used to isolate the tooth and prevents the saliva from going out into the air. A dry shield is also used along with a high-vacuum suction in the mouth which protects the aerosol from leaving the mouth.

A couple of days before the appointment, her patients are interviewed on the phone and asked nine questions about their health, including if they have been in contact with anyone with COVID-19 or if they have a fever.

On the day of the appointment, the patient is asked to wait in their vehicle and call the office when they arrive. An employee from the dental office goes to the vehicle and takes the patient’s temperature and asks the same nine questions again to see if anything has changed.

Once the patient comes into the office, they go straight to the exam room.

Many dental offices, including Atchinson’s, have installed equipment to keep the air purified.

In July, an HVAC air filtration system that is medical grade was installed in Atchinson’s offices. New duct work was also put in at the same time.

“It’s right over the patient, so any aerosol is getting drawn up into the air. And then the fresh is coming in,” she said.

Smaller air filters are stationed throughout the office and Surgicell air filters, which is an air filtration tower, are located in the treatment rooms. It has seven filters on it and turns the air over about every 8 minutes.

Atchinson also uses UVC (ultraviolet-C) light as another way to destroy microbes and viruses to sanitize and clean the air.

Atchinson recommends anyone that is going to a dental office for an appointment to talk with the someone at the office and the administrative staff can educate them on what to expect.

“If they are showing any signs or symptoms of the COVID or any flu-like symptoms, your dentist is going to be cooperative in saying, ‘let’s put off any elective procedures,” Atchinson said. “We always pay attention to our high risk patients who are already medically compromised.”

The patient will be asked to wear a mask, as much as possible, when in the office, and will be given the option of holding off on non-emergency procedures if there are concerns about the coronavirus.

“I want to stress the safety of coming to the office, there’ve been no reports of any problems coming from a dental practice in the U.S.,” Atchinson said.

Dr. Alexis Atchinson, DDS, is located at 1729 W. Harvard Ave, Suite No. 1. She has been providing dental services since 1983 and has been in Roseburg since 2012.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Reporter

Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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