Dentists and hygienists across Oklahoma say business has been booming in the months since they reopened their offices and resumed routine procedures.
They said rising COVID-19 case numbers aren’t scaring away clients, though some have questioned whether it’s still safe to undergo routine cleanings and non-emergent procedures.
“My practice is back to the level it was before COVID,” said Dr. Chris Fagan, a dentist with Brush Pediatric and Family Dentistry in Enid. “We’re busy. I would say people are a little cautious, but they’re still coming in. In my conversations with other dentists, pretty much everybody is having that experience.”
Many dentists resumed routine and non-emergent dental care in early May after Gov. Kevin Stitt lifted a temporary statewide ban that forbade all but emergency procedures.
Fagan said dentists are continuing to take steps to protect both staff and patients from contracting COVID-19. His office is screening patients for possible COVID-19 exposure ahead of visits, checking temperatures upon arrival, separating patients as much as possible and frequently sanitizing surfaces.
“We’ve taken the extra precautions to make it safe,” he said. “Because of the extra precautions, I feel safer in my office than I do going to Walmart, that’s for sure.”
Susan Rogers, executive director of Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said there have been no cases of COVID-19 linked to dental visits since practices reopened May 1. She said the board hasn’t had to shut down any practices for COVID-related reasons.
Laurie Humphrey, president-elect with Oklahoma Dental Hygienists’ Association, said most hygienists’ schedules are full as they continue to treat a large backlog of patients caused by the shutdown earlier this year.
“However, we are concerned with the dramatically increasing numbers of people infected with COVID across the state, and the impact this community spread has upon our own patients, families and staff,” she said.
Dr. Paul Mullasseril, assistant dean at the OU College of Dentistry, said he hasn’t seen a drop in attendance at the dental clinics, though some patients have elected to postpone routine treatments.
“We are concerned about increasing case numbers, but patients are still coming in,” he said.
The clinics provide dental care at a reduced cost. They primarily treat Oklahomans who can’t afford the cost of seeing a private dentist.
Mullasseril, who also serves as president of Oklahoma Dental Association, said the clinics are screening and taking patient temperatures. Faculty members and students are wearing the necessary personal protective gear to protect themselves and patients.
Floors are cleaned after every patient, and the clinics are operating at about 40 to 50% capacity because of social distancing efforts. Rather than use all 36 chairs, clinics are using about 15 or 16, he said.
“I think the dental schools are probably some of the safest places to be in,” Mullasseril said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.