The global health crisis caused by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in recent years had such an impact that the WHO (World Health Organisation) was forced to declare a state of emergency. The subsequent healthcare crisis obliged us to change many of our habits and exposed the fragility of the entire national system, forcing dramatic changes, especially in those professions most directly involved in combating the virus and organising to prevent its spread.
Like professionals in other healthcare sectors, dentists too had to adopt new methods to fight the virus and contain the pandemic: the introduction of FFP2 and FFP3 masks and stricter hygiene and sanitisation protocols are clear examples. To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the dental profession, it is worthwhile looking at the data from national and international surveys on the diffusion of the virus in dental practices reported in an article by Zhermack, a leading international manufacturer and distributor of materials and equipment for the dental industry. This article examines the key points of regulations introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 in dental practices and demonstrates how procedures already in place among dental professionals significantly limited the propagation of the virus in the dental sector.
In the spring of 2020, the sudden and rapid proliferation of the virus led to the application of special procedures in the dental profession, to minimise the risk of infection. For a start, appointments considered non-urgent were postponed. Cases that could not wait, i.e. those in which delays would have resulted in significant disadvantages for the patient, were treated as usual, but with dentists adopting all necessary precautions.
Even in the early stages of the pandemic, before detailed guidelines were introduced, dentists managed to avoid stopping work altogether. By pre-screening patients over the phone to ensure they did not display any of the classic symptoms of COVID-19, dentists were able to book appointments only for urgent cases. This reduction in the number of patients present in dental clinics was accompanied by the introduction of new safety protocols requiring the wearing of masks and the disinfection of hands. This need to maintain the highest possible levels of sanitisation also led to the elimination of all items and objects – like waiting room magazines – that proved difficult to disinfect.
Restrictions and new procedures for dental practices
Once the first phase of the emergency was over, Italy approved and introduced new operating procedures for dentists. The document clarified what clinical procedures had to be followed to achieve the safety standards needed to reduce the risk of infection.
The protocols already in place in dental practices, bolstered by these new safety procedures, proved extremely effective in containing the rate of infection. Research into COVID-19 clearly showed that transmission of the virus between people occurred mainly through the transfer of droplets of saliva, sneezing, and direct contact with objects contaminated with the oral mucosae of infected individuals. The presence of the virus in bodily fluids was immediately identified as one of the main sources of transmission for the coronavirus. Dental practices were therefore rightly identified as places at high risk of infection. Dental treatments are performed inside the oral cavity of the patient and involve instruments like ultrasonic scalers that generate aerosols during use, potentially contributing to the airborne transmission of the disease.
Confirming how dentists rapidly succeeded in minimising the risk of infection posed by SARS-CoV-2, a report by INAIL published after the pandemic notes that no health problems were recorded among dental practice employees. On the international front, similar results were reported by the American Dental Association: a recent survey of US dental operatives found a total infection level of under 1%. Finally, additional recognition comes from a study published in BMC Health Services Research, showing chow the protocols used by hygienists in dental practices effectively reduce the spread of the virus among patients and personnel, and that the sector was therefore well prepared to counter the risk of infection.
Research into the course of the pandemic, the procedures adopted by dental practices and how dentists were able to achieve such excellent results in preventing the spread of the virus therefore obliges us to consider dental clinics as extremely safe places. The approach adopted by dentists has since become a point of reference, and other medical professionals have now adopted the same preventive measures first applied in dentistry.
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