A group of Nelson dentists has created an emergency community dental clinic during the COVID-19 outbreak, which will start offering services this week.
Blair Day has worked at the TEETH clinic, providing affordable service to people with little or no income, for several years.
The new emergency service will take over and renovate the current TEETH clinic office on Front Street and enhance its services to include the general public, whom it will charge just enough to keep the clinic running.
“We are going to treat pain, infection and trauma,” Day says. “Different dentists will have different interpretations of that but it comes down to the dentist addressing those issues.”
How to apply
The group is developing a thorough triage system so that emergency dentists and their assistants will see only the most serious cases face to face, and handle less serious cases on the phone.
Patients are asked to call their own dentist first with an emergency. If they can’t reach them or don’t have a dentist then they should call the emergency clinic at 250-352-3543.
“We have talked to all local dentists,” Day says. “They are aware and they are going to work with us.”
Staff at the emergency clinic will attempt to help patients over the phone without a clinic visit.
“Everything starts on the phone,” Day says. “We don’t want anyone showing up at the clinic unannounced.”
Renovation will create an aerosol-free zone
The group is currently renovating the TEETH clinic to add a second operatory (dentist chair). One of the operatories will be aerosol free (i.e. no drills or suction) for patients who can be treated in that way.
“That will be very limited,” Day says. “We are going to simply assess them, maybe take an X-ray or do other simple things.“
The second operatory will be an enclosed surgical space with an air purifying system, sealed off from the first one and the rest of the office. The dentist and assistant will wear masks, face shields, gown and gloves. This will be for treatments that require aerosol generation.
“Every time we use a drill or suction we create aerosols and those are how the virus spreads,” Day says.
Even in the aerosol-producing operatory, treatment will be limited.
“We are limiting treatment to simple procedures to help deal with pain, infection, or trauma. Patients will need to be made aware that in the future more definitive treatment may be needed to fully address their issues.”
Day sees these operatories as two separate clinics, open on different designated days of each week. He has no idea how many patients they will have and says emergency cases amount to about 10 per cent of all dentist visits under normal conditions.
The clinic will be staffed with “the minimum of one receptionist, one sterilization tech, and one volunteer dentist. We may be joined by dental assistants on some days but we wish to keep staff limited to help limit COVID-19 risk.”
Payments and dental insurance
The clinic’s dentists will be volunteering their time. But their assistants will be paid and the clinic will have other operational costs including the cost of the renovation.
Whenever the clinic does phone consultations, patients will be asked for a donation.
“But for any clinical treatment we are going to operate as a fee for service clinic,” Day says. “But we will be working to maximize people’s insurance and government programs and government insurance. Otherwise we have no source of funding for this.”
Patients at risk for COVID-19
All initial phone assessments will include an evaluation of COVID-19 risk.
Day says the clinic will not be equipped to serve anyone positive or suspected positive for COVID-19. They will be given an appropriate referral. Patients considered high risk because of travel or close contact will be asked to self-isolate for ten days.
“If we have any misses or near misses with COVID-19 at this clinic we will have to shut everything down,” Day says.