From the rise of the delta variant to issues about vaccination, the past few months have seen questions arise about the best ways for dental practices to adapt.
The latest recommendations from the ADA
On July 13, the American Dental Association (ADA) released updated recommendations for office procedures during COVID-19. Key points of the update include:
- Maintain hazard assessments, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. You must have a safety plan for exposure control and COVID-19. Repeat the hazard assessment regularly as COVID-19 conditions change. Consider the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 in your area and the rate of testing in your area. The ADA has created a guide and checklist to walk your practice through the process of creating an assessment.
- Stay up to date on local mandates. Consult your state dental boards and state and local health departments for current local information for requirements specific to your jurisdiction.
- Pre-screen and assess patients for symptoms upon arrival. Call patients prior to their scheduled appointments to ask about their current health status. Consider using temperature checks to screen patients and staff for COVID-19 symptoms on arrival. Although screening for symptoms will not identify asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals, symptom screening can still help to identify those who could have COVID-19, so appropriate precautions can be implemented. Self-assessment information that patients provide themselves is not always reliable.
- Use your judgment. The adoption of COVID-prevention tactics has largely been left to individual practices. Use your best professional judgment when making decisions. Take an integrative approach, incorporating evidence-based scientific data in conjunction with psychosocial, state and community factors, such as the prevalence of testing in your area.
Delta variant prompts renewed recommendations on masks, vaccination
Concerns about the spread of the delta variant have prompted the American Dental Association to release a new fact sheet.
With the release of the document, the organization strongly reiterates its previous recommendations of:
- Being vaccinated against the virus. The ADA recommends vaccinations in dental settings (California is the only state where vaccines for health care workers, including dental staff, are currently required). When recommending the vaccine to patients or staff who are resistant, the ADA offers a toolkit of ideas on how to address their concerns.
- Using personal protective equipment in office settings. Monitor staff for appropriate implementation of PPE. Advise dental staff members to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate, such as surgical masks or N95 masks, full face shields or goggles with side shields to ensure an environment that is as safe and healthy as possible for patients and the dental team.
- Practicing social distancing. Avoid close contact with others by keeping six feet of distance whenever possible.
Overall, the ADA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s guidelines remain consistent throughout the rise of the delta variant. The guidance from each organization provides thorough, detailed patient management and facility information to consider before, during and after dental appointments.
How to manage office safety throughout the pandemic
The advent of the delta variant reinforces the importance of proper implementation of COVID-prevention tactics.
Successful guideline adherence and low infection rates in dental practices may be the primary reasons why dentists were largely exempted from recent federal COVID-19 requirements for health care settings mandated by OSHA, according to the ADA.
Guidance documents create no new legal obligations and don’t change or establish compliance responsibilities. As always, you need to use your best professional judgment when making decisions for your practice.
“Staying current with recommended safety protocols is important to building the safe environment for patients to seek care and the dental professionals delivering that care,” said Dr. Daniel Croley, Delta Dental’s chief dental officer. “While following these recommendations is an individual practice choice, we encourage all dentists to adhere to these new guidelines to prevent the introduction of COVID to anyone seeking or delivering dental care.”