Washington state dental offices could open on May 19

SPOKANE, Wash. — Dentist offices in Washington state have been closed for weeks. They’ve only been doing emergency care, but that could soon change.

A proclamation signed by Governor Inslee doesn’t allow elective surgeries. This order expires on May 18, meaning dental offices can open the next day. However, it’s up to each dentist to decide if they will. The opening of offices will only happen if the governor doesn’t sign another proclamation or extend the current one.

“We’ve been operating on a very limited basis,” said Dr. Chris Collins with Collins Family Dentistry. “Seeing mostly emergencies, extractions and a little bit of decay here and there.”

He had to lay off all but one employee. They could soon come back to the office.

“The state dental association has kind of received little guidance from Gov. Inslee, and it’s very vague and very non-descriptive,” Collins said.

If dental offices open, they could perform non-elective surgeries, cleanings and more. However, according to the Washington state Dental Association, the decision to increase care during this pandemic is up to each dentist using their best clinical judgment.

“I think in a dental setting, we’re relatively safe in a sense that we already have universal precautions using gloves and masks,” Collins explained.

Proper and adequate PPE for hygienists is a concern for Spokane health officials.

“Oftentimes as you know, when you go in to get a cleaning, the staff hygienists is typically wearing a mask, but that’s not an N-95 mask,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane County’s medical officer. “And we know that many of the procedures that are done in dental clinics produce what we call aerosolized particles, which are even smaller than the respiratory droplets for what we talk about for COVID-19.”

At Collins Family Dentistry, they’ve already taken extra measures to protect patients and staff.

“I ordered some N-95 masks and level three masks to help with this,” Collins said. “They’ll [staff] be wearing face shields as well as masks. If you use universal precautions like we have always done, that shouldn’t be an issue.”

Collins said his office will open back up to full capacity on May 19.

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