A Nelson dentist thinks all dental offices in the province should be shut down immediately to safeguard the public and dental workers from COVID-19.
The College of Dental Surgeons of BC (CDSBC) has recommended this, but David Alfaro thinks the provincial government should order it. His petition in support of this idea now has more than 4,000 signatures.
But it appears that the CDSBC is not happy with his petition.
Alfaro says there are dental offices in B.C. (not in Nelson) that remain open and this puts the public and dental staff at risk.
“Recommending offices to close is not the same as mandating offices to close,” he told the Star. “If we don’t use strong terminology in these announcements, people might still open.”
The CDSBC is the licensing and regulatory body for dentists in the province.
Alfaro said that being exposed to aerosolized saliva and blood particles is part of daily dental office life.
“Our traditional universal precaution measures protect us and protect our patients. But we don’t know how effective these are against COVID-19. We are hearing that the droplets remain contagious in the air for a period of hours, perhaps on surfaces for days. Now obviously we are wiping surfaces and wearing masks and face shields. But to what level do we have to protect ourselves to provide dental care?”
Responding to a request from the Star, the CDSBC referred to a recent statement from Chris Hacker, the organization’s CEO, in which he asks individual dentists not to lobby the ministry.
“If you have any concerns or requests,” Hacker writes, “please direct them to either your professional association (the B.C. Dental Association) or to us as your regulator, not to the Office of the Public Health Officer. Dr. Bonnie Henry and her team must be allowed to continue to focus on the critical work of monitoring and responding to this public health emergency.”
Hacker’s statement goes on to say, “Dental offices must stay open where possible, allowing access to frontline oral health practitioners by patients who need them. The College also expects that your communications to patients and staff are consistent with what Dr. Henry and other health officials have stated.”
Alfaro and several of his staff attended the March 5-7 dental conference in Vancouver and have, on the advice of the Ministry of Health, isolated themselves because the conference has since been recognized as a potential source of COVID-19 infections.
“I took my own team down there for a team building experience, continuing education, a perk of the job,” Alfaro said. “There were no warnings, there was just ‘practise social distancing and wash your hands,’ and the conference went on as normal. There were many events in town that weekend, the city was abuzz, and there was no information about risk, and here we are 10 days after being told to go into self isolation.”
Alfaro said he and all his staff are in isolation, healthy and with no symptoms.
But his attendance at the conference has led to some unfortunate rumours in Nelson.
“I have people calling my personal cell phone saying they have heard that a dentist in town has confirmed COVID-19 and people have even mentioned they thought it was my office.
“This has been very, very difficult.”
Another issue is insurance, Alfaro said. All dentists have pandemic insurance, but to collect it they must be ordered to shut down by a health authority or a government, not simply close down on a recommendation.
Alfaro’s petition to the Ministry of Health also asks the province to establish “centralized clinics for dentists to direct all of their emergency patients and to grant dentists in the province temporary hospital privileges if these clinics are to be established in existing hospital-based dental clinics.”
It also asks the ministry to facilitate employment insurance benefits for dental office staff, and “to consider financial actions to reduce the fixed expenditure burden of dental offices.”
The Star asked the ministry and the B.C. Dental Association for comment and has so far received no response.