Gaby Bissett explores how dental practices can prepare in the event of another COVID-19 lockdown.
This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed new restrictions for the first time since the government began to ease lockdown in May.
Social gatherings of more than six people, both indoors and outdoors, will be illegal from Monday 14 September, marking a significant change in England’s coronavirus guidance.
This comes as the daily number of new cases has started to exceed 2,000.
This begs the question – is a second lockdown looming?
If so, it’s unlikely it’ll be comparable to the first.
In an interview with The Telegraph in July, the Prime Minister vowed there would not be another national lockdown. That said, he also insisted face coverings wouldn’t be necessary in schools – but here we are now.
U-turns aside, there’s very little indication the government is prepared to close down the country, or the economy, once again.
As a result, while the public may be asked to stay at home, it seems unlikely that dental practices will be asked to shut their doors for a second time.
We’ve looked at four ways that dental practices can prepare for and survive another lockdown.
Source the right amount of the correct PPE
This might seem obvious. But if there’s one thing the first lockdown taught practices, it’s that having the right amount of the required PPE is paramount.
As it stands, dental practices are required to wear:
- Non AGP – eye protection, disposable fluid-resistant surgical masks (type IIR), disposable apron, and gloves
- AGP – disposable, fluid-repellent gown, eye/face protection, gloves, and a respirator mask (FFP3/FFP2/N95). These require fit testing and checking to ensure the make and model are adequate.
Additionally, look to invest in reusable respirator masks if you haven’t already.
The government has confirmed these can be used to carry out AGPs in dentistry. This will reduce the need to bulk buy and will help to avoid a panic for PPE if the UK heads into another lockdown.
Invest in a ventilation system
At the start of the month, the CDOs for England and Wales took steps to reduce the fallow time.
Since dental practices were able to resume face-to-face care in June, a one-hour fallow time has been required between AGP treatments.
Much of the profession has questioned if this is even necessary, pointing to a report that shows only 48% of 58 countries require a fallow period following an AGP.
As it currently stands, dental practices can cut the fallow period to just 20 minutes. But only if at least 10 to 12 air changes are taking place per hour.
But for anything less, or in a neutral pressure room surgery, the fallow time remains one hour.
As a result, now might be a good time for practices to consider investing in ventilation systems that allow for the required air changes. A significantly reduced fallow time means a significant increase in patient footfall.
Whether we like it or not, COVID-proof practices are going to be a requirement for the foreseeable future – at the very minimum.
Of course, practices need to beware of poor quality copies, so make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller.
One of the key concerns of practices is reassuring patients that a dental practice is a safe environment to visit during the pandemic.
A poll by the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) revealed that 49% of households have at least one adult who has missed or decided against visiting the dentist.
With this in mind, it’s absolutely imperative that patients are kept informed, updated and comforted. Both before, during and after an appointment.
Of course, increased PPE levels can make in-person communication tricky. With facial expressions concealed and FFP3 masks donned, it’s no easy task.
There’s plenty of other ways patients can be kept informed. As soon as any relevant information is released by the government, update your website and any social media channels. This is the first place many patients will visit for information.
When booking patients in, take some time to explain what they can expect at the practice. Give them a chance to voice any concerns or worries.
Plaster your practice in posters. Inform patients on the procedures and protocols that are in place for their safety.
Reassurance is key. Once that’s mastered, the rest follows.
Capitalise on cosmetic treatments
It’s no secret that dentistry, especially private, was hit hard by lockdown.
Financially, private practices were offered very little support. For many, these next few months are crucial for the financial survival of their businesses.
Polls and surveys reveal that lockdown has increased the demand for cosmetic treatments, such as tooth whitening. Dubbed the ‘Zoom boom’, a recent article with a dental practice in The Telegraph reveals many have seen a spike in interest when it comes to cosmetic work.
Practices can capitalise on this interest.
Non-AGP treatments do not require a fallow time. And a lot of cosmetic procedures do not produce aerosol – teeth whitening, for example.
As a result, this is a great way to maximise profits and make up for lost time in a safe and appropriate way. As well as involving the wider dental team to help the practice.
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