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Dentists adjust to new normal, move forward amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Dentists adjust to new normal, move forward amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Having had the green light for about a month to proceed with normal operations, Columbus dentists are seeing significant changes in their practices.

“(It’s) definitely not business as usual at this point,” Dr. Andrew Stadler of Stadler Dental Care said. “We pretty much closed our waiting room. As the patient arrives, they’re calling and then we’re bringing them in from the parking lot. Every patient that walks in our office is using hand sanitizer. If they didn’t come with a mask of their own, we’re giving them one.”

Patients are screened both via phone and in-person for possible COVID-19 exposure and/or symptoms before entering the facility, 2457 33rd Ave.

“Provided that they passed the screening process and make it to the back, they’re doing a pre-procedural mouth rinse with 1.5% hydrogen peroxide,” Stadler added.

Additionally, more time is allocated between patients for extra cleaning and so that patients do not cross each other in the hall.

“We’re inching back to business as usual,” Stadler said.

Operations have been similar at Kumpf & Ronkar, 2526 17th St.

“We have cut back our schedule significantly so that we can only have one patient per provider per hour,” Dr. Rebecca Ronkar said. “Instead of our normal running between rooms and things, so that we’re staying dedicated to that particular patient.”

Kumpf & Ronkar also screens patients and takes the person’s temperature before he or she is led to the room. One assistant’s duties have been switched to sterilization of rooms and surfaces.

Ronkar, along with her hygienists and assistants, wears N95 masks and face shields during appointments. She noted that N95 masks have been found as offering better protection against aerosols than the surgical masks they wore pre-COVID.

Previously, from mid-March until the end of April, dental offices were closed except for emergencies. Ronkar noted that this included whether the patient was experiencing pain, swelling or had a broken tooth with a sharp end that may result in issues with accidental puncturing of the tongue.

“We were doing teledentistry with many patients where we’d use FaceTime, Google Hangouts, something like that,” Stadler said. “Patients were really good about giving me a bird’s eye view -- this could be from their phone or their computer, iPad, etc. I was able to be able to screen patients that way.”

From this less-than-ideal vantage point, Stadler was able to determine if a patient needed an emergency visit.

“Let’s say they called in with a broken tooth or an infection; it allowed me to see if there’s swelling present, those kinds of things,” Stadler explained. “In many cases, it was able to allow us to say, ‘yes, this patient needs to be seen now.’”

Ronkar said her practice had set hours each day for emergency visits: From 8 a.m. to noon, though whether staff would actually be there would depend upon need.

Starting May 4, dentists were able to begin seeing patients for preventive care such as regular cleanings, crowns, fillings and dentures. Ronkar noted that the practice has been experiencing a backlog with patients.

“We’ve had to reschedule so many (appointments) as well. We’ve definitely had a good flow of patients but unfortunately, we’re cut back because of the virus. We can’t see as many patients as we normally would in a given day,” Ronkar said.

As for the foreseeable future, Ronkar said Columbus area residents can feel at ease knowing that local dentists are doing what they can to keep everyone healthy.

“I think all of us collectively, at least around here, we have our patients’ best interests at heart. We’re doing everything we can to protect our patients, ourselves and our staff,” Ronkar said. “We’ve always been able to easily adapt to different situations and this is no different. Patients can feel safe coming to the office with all of the protocols in place.”

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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