Buckler: Dentistry in Unprecedented Times

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According to Merriam-Webster.com “common good” is defined as “the public good: the advantage of everyone.” Over the last many weeks, we’ve all been asked to perform a lot of “common good” for our friends, neighbors, communities, state, and country.

As confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 continue to mount, it’s a task that many of us accept willingly in the midst of one of the greatest health crises of our time. 

We’ve seen the acts of many to benefit our communities. Facebook groups are being established to help bring necessities to those who may not be able to leave their residences, hearts are being placed in windows to support #healthcareheroes, doctors and nurses are putting themselves at risk helping the sickest patients, and hospital employees are working day and night to ensure that hospitals are able to care for Marylanders.   

Health care professionals across the spectrum are doing some amazing things like helping dialysis patients get their treatment, and dentists, endodontists and oral surgeons are helping keep emergency departments as clear as possible for those true health care emergencies and COVID-19 patients.

As the executive director of the Maryland State Dental Association (MSDA), I’ve witnessed the good work and sacrifice that dentists, many of whom are small business owners, have done to ensure the safety and well-being of their patients, staff, and communities.

As the crisis unfolded, in consultation with the American Dental Association and the Maryland Department of Oral Health, MSDA took the lead in recommending dental practices stop any procedures that were not deemed emergency or urgent care.

Dentistry is a unique health care profession because of the tools that are needed to treat oral health diseases. These tools can create vulnerable situations for staff and patients, and our dentists took very seriously the call to stop all non-emergency procedures.

Oral health providers also recognize that oral health emergencies need to be treated in a dental chair. So, they have made a concerted effort to treat dental emergencies in order to keep emergency departments free to deal with COVID-19 patients and other acute emergency care. General dentists, oral surgeons and endodontists are taking patients from emergency rooms at all hours of the day. While this occurs throughout the year, the urgency of the current situation has led to even more referrals.

In addition, Maryland dentists continue to donate masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals. Some dentists are attempting to use their 3-D printers to make N-95 equivalent masks for health care workers on the frontlines.

As small business owners, we’re navigating this new world along with everybody else.  We’re worried for the health of our staff and dentists who are screening patients and treating emergency situations, we’re worried about our staff and their families at home, and we worry about what happens after COVID-19 is under control. Do we have the financial resources to reopen our practices? Will staff want to return knowing the unique risks presented in a dental office? We’re grateful for the work of Governor Hogan, the Maryland General Assembly and our federal legislators to ensure that dentists are included as small businesses in the resources that have been made available.

There will come a time when our dentists’ offices are again taking patients for oral health care. As the entryway into the body, keeping good oral health is one of the most important things we can do.  Dentists are specially trained to detect oral cancers and other diseases that can lead to bigger problems if they go undetected. 

When we can return to a new normal we look forward to seeing everybody in a dentist’s chair soon!

Greg Buckler is Executive Director of the Maryland State Dental Association which represents the dental profession's efforts to provide high quality and ethical oral health care to the public. It is the professional association for dentists in the state of Maryland, and a constituent of the American Dental Association.

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