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Dental offices reopen with big changes due to COVID-19

Changes are underway at dental offices, and there's some confusion over the California guidelines for re-opening. Some dentists aren't clear on what's essential.

SAN DIEGO — Dentist offices have been closed to patients for several weeks for non-emergency procedures, but now that they're opening up, what will your next visit look like as many offices are asking their patients to wear masks.

"Every person that walks in the office must wear a mask. We’ll screen our staff and doctors,’ said Dr. Kami Hoss, CEO and co-founder of The Super Dentists, which has six offices throughout San Diego County.

The Super Dentists plans to reopen on Monday, but not like before the coronavirus pandemic.

"Many offices, including mine, have set up virtual waiting rooms. Patients can check in from the comfort of their cars,” Hoss said.

Some dental offices will no longer offer magazines and other reading materials while patients wait. 

“Lobbies are going to look very differently. We have pediatric practices, so we have toys out and coffee and people walking around hugging each other and playing video games, so that just going to look a little differently” Hoss said.

There was much confusion on when dental offices could safely reopen. The State recently issued COVID-19 Guidance for Resuming Deferred and Preventative Dental Care to California Dental Health Care Personnel.

Then San Diego County released regulations that reads: “Nothing in this Order shall prevent dentists or dental hygienists from conducting routine preventive care provided it conforms to any applicable State guidance.”

“We've spent the last six or seven weeks that we've been closed working very, very hard to get our offices ready. We feel we're there,” Hoss said.

What may not be ready is the staff. 

Dr. Jack Chan of Oceanside's California Coast Dental said he can't fulfill the State's Guidelines and the Requirements for his PPP Loan at the same time, writing: "How can I rehire furloughed employees when those same employees aren't allowed yet to do cleanings and other elective dentistry, and they make more money collecting unemployment?”

Chan said business owners are struggling to find help because employees earn more sitting at home rather than working, and he said he sent letters to Rep. Mike Levin regarding the dilemma but never received a solution.

Eric Mee, Communications Director for Levin wrote that his office responded to Dr. Chan on several occasions, and in each of the responses, a phone number was provided for specific concerns or to receive further assistance.

"The PPP thing has been kind of a mess when it comes to dental offices and any business closed," Hoss said.

Many dentists feel they're hands are tied in what they can and cannot do, especially as dentistry is mostly paid by insurance, which takes time to get the money to the dentist and employees.

“When the offices open, they're going to be in a really tight situation, waiting for the revenue to start building up,” Hoss said.

There are also concerns about personal protective equipment shortages, which Hoss said is problematic because dentists “are working in the mouth, so it is critical that we protect our dental professionals."

Also, cavities and tooth aches don't pause just because we're in a pandemic. Hoss said the number of emergencies and the severity of those cases have been increasing on a daily basis.

He anticipates dental offices will see a delay in getting their appointments caught up and advises elderly patients with underlying conditions to postpone some cosmetic procedures.

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