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Some Utah dental offices — like Main Street Dental in South Salt Lake and the Dental Spa in Salt Lake City — are closing their doors after receiving new guidance from the nationwide dental association on Monday that urged all practitioners to stop unnecessary procedures for three weeks.
In a text to patients, Main Street Dental said it was closing "for the health and well being of our staff and patients. We are doing are part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” After April 6, the office will revaluate, receptionist Yessil Sandoval said.
Dentists and people working related jobs are among the most vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19, the New York Times has reported, based on its analysis of information on O*NET, a database maintained by the Department of Labor that describes various physical aspects of different occupations. It concluded dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants have the highest exposure to the disease, ranking alongside respiratory therapy technicians and oral surgeons.
The American Dental Association on Monday called the circumstances facing dental practices “unprecedented and extraordinary.” Pausing elective procedures will allow dentists to do their part to stop spread, it said, while concentrating on emergency care alleviates the burden on hospital emergency departments.
But the association added, “it is up to dentists to make well-informed decisions about their patients and practices.” And for dentist Jeff Almond, who just opened a new Almond Dental practice in South Jordan, that means staying open, with increased sanitation procedures.
“It’s hard because you have a guideline and you want to be part of the solution, and I want to not put anybody at risk,” Almond said.
However, by closing he would create another risk, he said: To his and his employees’ pocketbooks.
Almond said he just moved into the new location, just bought new equipment to use, and has high overhead costs right now. If he had to close down for a month, Almond said, he wouldn’t have the money saved up to pay staff and stay afloat.
Staff at Almond Dental have rigorous cleaning protocols. They disinfect commonly touched surfaces on the hour. Patients are asked to sanitize their hands when they enter the building. Staff have nixed the waiting room magazines, and if that waiting room gets too full, they have patients move to their cars. Once a client makes it to an exam room, they undergo an anti-bacterial mouth rinse.
Office staff also screen patients to see if they’ve recently been sick or have traveled outside Utah or the country.
Personally, Almond said, he feels safe working right now. He said the office would close if it were mandated by the American Dental Association or another official source, but right now, he’s trying to keep the business going. The Utah Dental Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Dentist Adrian Vande Merwe, who runs Dr. Adrian, a cosmetic and general dentistry practice in Bountiful, is doing a bit of both: closing for elective procedures for the next two weeks but remaining open for emergencies.
“We’re very sorry for any inconvenience but we feel this is best course of action to help alleviate the spread of this virus,” the office said in an email to clients.
Vande Merwe said he made the decision after seeing recommendations from the California Dental Association asking all practices to close, except to do essential procedures, for two weeks. He said his staff spent much of the day Monday calling clients and explaining why they couldn’t come in for their regular teeth cleaning or other elective appointments.
Vande Merwe said he’s committed to paying his employees during the two-week hiatus. After that, he’s not sure what he’ll do. He’ll likely have to dip into savings.
As for now, he said, “I’m going for a hike.”