As of May 4, dentists in Alberta will be able to provide urgent dental care in addition to emergent care as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
The change to accommodate more patients is welcome news for Eric Tse.
He said he has been suffering from jaw pain for weeks and was finally able to get an appointment at Ranchlands Dental Clinic in Calgary on Tuesday.
“Everything has been so stressful. I have been taking so much medication just to relieve the pain,” he said.
Tse said he felt confident about being one of the first urgent-care patients to be seen in Calgary.
“They are all health professionals so I do trust them. I’m sure they do everything they can to make sure you’re safe,” Tse said.
The office Tse went to in Ranchlands normally sees eight patients at a time. Now, it’s down to one.
Dr. Jan Jaffer said it hasn’t been a huge stretch to accommodate the new rules that were laid out by the Alberta Dental Association and College on Friday. Patients will be pre-screened, and N95 masks must be used for aerosol-generating procedures, which are ones that have the possibility of spraying fluids.
“We wear masks and we wear gloves. We are already doing that on a regular basis. We are supposed to make sure we don’t pass on things like TB or HIV, so we are protected to that level. I do think dentists are fairly well-protected,” Jaffer said.
Some provinces have tighter rules around the time that must pass between appointments and the requirement for closed rooms for using aerosol-generating procedures.
“I think Alberta has done a good job of figuring out the balance point. We use N95 masks and face shields but we don’t need a closed room to do the procedures. We don’t need to wait two hours after a procedure,” Jaffer said.
The Alberta Dental Association and College said it is expected that there will be differences from province to province because COVID-19 is taking dentistry to new territory.
“When one group chooses to adopt something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or worse; it just means they are interpreting the literature a certain way,” said Troy Basarab, president of the Alberta Dental Association and College.
Jaffer said judging by the number of calls at his clinic this week, people are ready to get back in the dentist’s chair. He estimates around 1,600 appointments have been missed since the clinic closed on March 17.
“I don’t think that people would truly be able to catch up but we are looking at pain first and that’s the most important thing: getting people comfortable and out of pain. Then hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, maybe some level of cleaning but things will be different,” Jaffer said.
Only urgent cases are being seen until May 14 but after that, it is expected the Alberta Dental Association and College will expand to non-urgent appointments.
“Assuming that Alberta’s numbers come in the way our chief medical officer is anticipating and the Alberta relaunch strategy continues as it is supposed to progress, then I am anticipating that we are going to open the door a little bit more. So will it be that we are necessarily back to a full scope of practice? I’m not sure yet. But as we move ahead and get a better sense for it, we will start to expand those available services even more,” said Basarab.
He said feedback from the chief medical officer of health will play a big role in what services will be expanded. Another factor is accessibility to personal protective equipment.
The Alberta Dental Association and College said it is actively working with Alberta Health to address the PPE needs and concerns of the province’s dentists.