Dr Maria Papavergos talks of her pandemic experience and how the dental profession can – and should – take away positives from the impact of COVID-19.
My last experience volunteering was aboard the Amazon Hope Medical Ship, part of the Vine Trust, where we went deep in the Amazon jungle to treat local tribes. Volunteering on the dentist rota in Dumfries and Galloway during this pandemic was wildly different in many ways, but what struck me the most were the similarities; the coming together of the team with a common purpose to help others in need and the gratefulness of the patients.
Primarily, we, the dental profession, are here to help. This is so often forgotten in our daily practising lives; managing a busy list and trying our best to meet patients’ high demands, we rarely have a moment to thank other members of the team for doing their bit. Additionally, patients can take for granted the efforts of our skilled team to keep mouths healthy and pain-free. Volunteering changes this.
Suddenly, we are stripped back to the basics. We don’t need to be here, but we are. Collectively trying to make a difference to people. Supporting one another. Finding humour and keeping morale high, in Dumfries Dental Centre’s NOvid Room: the COVID-19 conversation free zone.
Focus on achievements
It was a true honour to work with such a cohesive, positive team. From the other side, patients appreciate the risk we are willingly undertaking to help and our efforts do not go unnoticed. There is real value in what we do and recognition in our kindness.
With this in mind, my experience is not going to be a rant about PPE or the lack of government support for our profession. Not to dismiss these real issues, but to focus on what we are able to achieve during this global crisis. Immediate urgent care is being offered and is available, which in itself is more than the tribes of the Amazon had and many other communities around the world currently have.
Dumfries Dental Centre is running its Urgent Care Unit with military precision. Dentists are working to triage patients seeking dental help through their own GDPs or NHS 111. The triaging process is well thought out and allows for appointments for those who really need to be seen.
‘Hot’ and ‘cold’ COVID-19 patients will not cross paths; there is a separate entry and exit system in place. I am treating ‘cold’ patients only. My PPE consists of a mask, visor, apron and gloves. FFP3 masks are reserved for dentists treating ‘hot’ patients.
It is a different way of working, with some of our steadfast staples being out of bounds; no hand piece, no 3 in 1. Yet, you quickly adjust. In some ways, it is quite liberating. The decision making process is simplified and the pressure for perfection is taken away.
Additionally, patients are just grateful for what you are able to do. We can only do our best when working within government restrictions. Providing mainly extractions and placing occasional dressings on teeth, presentation of patients was much less than I expected.
In fact, people can tolerate more than we realise and practical telephone advice has a genuine place in managing dental complaints. Sometimes reassurance is all people need and a video call can be enough. Could this be an opportunity to rewrite the way we do things?
Overall, I feel my volunteering experience was a truly positive one and I believe many positive changes will result from this lockdown period. The value in community, the respect for care and people’s willingness to take responsibility for their own health.
It is a pleasure to be part of the dental community; a profession that offers care, and to be positioned with an opportunity to educate and empower people to take care of their own health. Our patients have not forgotten our profession, and that is a positive place to be post-COVID-19.
Dr Maria Papavergos BDS FGDP works at Birch Valley Dental Clinic, Dumfries and Galloway. Her interest lies in preventative education through diet and nutrition in regard to dental health, as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle. On top of this, she is a practising yoga instructor and a passionate advocate for holistic health and wellbeing. Follow her on Instagram @thelifestyledentist.