Dentist Stephen Koza.jpg

Dentist Stephen Koza of Koza Family Dental in La Grande, poses in full personal protective equipment, which he wears anytime there is an aerosol producing procedure.

LA GRANDE — Like the medical industry, the dental industry faced changes in light of COVID-19. Changes in policy and procedure in the dentist office are underway all across the nation, including at offices in La Grande, to protect patients and employees.

"In theory, the risk of COVID-19 is greater at a dentist office, and we recognized that even before the shut down," said Stephen Koza of Koza Family Dental Care said. "We work in close proximity and we produce aerosols in working at a dentist office. We recognize that was a big reason dental offices shut down."

While dental offices have reopened, they are doing so with more precautions than before.

“Dental offices have always done a superior job of infection control and sterilization, but COVID-19 brings about new issues and warrants even further measures to protect patients and staff," said Jess Hagedorn, La Grande Family Dental office manager. "At our office, we have committed to following the most stringent recommended guidelines. We can always scale back and ease precautions as needed once more information about COVID-19 becomes available. For now, being diligent and cautious helps us feel confident that we will not have to look back and wish we had done more."

Some procedures, like those of other services such as salons and massage parlors include screening before a patient comes through the door. When setting up and confirming appointments La Grande Family Dental, Koza Family Dental Care and Sea Brite Dental ask patients to confirm if symptoms of COVID-19 are present. La Grande Family Dental has patients wait in their car before their appointment to limit exposure. Sea Brite has cleared its waiting room of magazines and toys as they are often harder to frequently disinfect. All of these measures, and more are in place to ensure high levels of sanitization and hygiene for patients.

"Everyone is really working to make sure we minimize the risk in a dental office, Koza said. "Everyone is testing the waters trying to get used to working within the framework."

La Grande Family Dental has also added new suction technology to their stations to help keep germs out of the air. The high volume excavation devices, in addition to full personal protective equipment mean an even cleaner station and extra protection for patients and the dentists working on them. Staff are also wearing full personal protective equipment and N95 masks because of how much risk the line of work poses in catching and spreading COVID-19.

Nearly every single treatment and procedure a dentist does creates these aerosols (tiny droplets that can contain viruses)," Hagedorn said. "These particles float into the air and onto surfaces where they can be breathed in or picked up."

To help with maintaining social distancing outside of the dentist chair appointments are being spread out in scheduling. This means fewer options for people to make appointments, and more time between patients to allow for proper cleaning. And for those who are part of a vulnerable population, such as the elderly or people with a weakened immune system, it still may be a while before they return to the dentist.

While many of these offices were ordered closed to the public for several weeks, emergency dental care still needed to be done. The guidelines on what constituted an emergency were very specific, according to Koza, but routine dental care is important in mitigating these emergencies, which could include pain, swelling and bleeding, so reopening has been a benefit for the business and the community.

Getting to this place of reopening and changes has not been an easy journey and continues to be a struggle for some dentists offices, though Koza and Hagedorn remain optimistic that they will continue to make things work.

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