As a rising third-year dental student, my world was shifting 180 degrees. As I was entering the clinic floor as a new student provider, COVID-19 tilted the axis another 180 degrees by abruptly shutting down the dental field entirely.
The uncertainty of a new viral infection spreading across the globe is unsettling, to say the least. Statistics showed that one of the most vulnerable careers to be in during the pandemic was dentistry. The American Dental Association spoke out immediately, recommending guidelines to follow during the crisis: urging all dental offices to limit appointments to emergency care only.
Safety of the healthcare workers in the dental setting, along with the patients being treated, was of utmost importance. Emergency dental procedures were the only supported treatment during the pandemic crisis. And just like that, the world of dentistry came to a halt.
There were many unanswered questions. As a dental student with only two years remaining, I questioned the timeframe of uncertainty and the unknown of completing my degree as planned. Dentists were concerned about their practices and paying their bills. Patients were left in the middle of treatments without knowing when they’d fully be seen again by their provider.
Fast forward three months and dental offices are adapting to the “new normal” and practicing with increased infection-control protocols in place — something me and my fellow dental students are grateful for. Screening all patients prior to entering the dental setting is critical in preventing the spread of the virus. Dentists are also asking patients a list of questions regarding their recent travel, if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and checking their temperature as standard operating procedure. If the patients are symptom-free, they may proceed with a sterile pre-treatment mouth rinse. Personal protective equipment is worn by all healthcare workers as a barrier to preventing the spread and protecting all individuals involved from contamination. Sanitizing operatory rooms and equipment prior to treatment and at the end of treatment is essential.
The new normal may certainly become just that: the norm — affecting short- and long-term dentistry, not only in the dental practice itself but in dental education. Dental students are not able to attend in-person classes anymore and almost all academic material is given virtually. As a dental student, I understand the importance of following the guidelines and protocols to keep me and my patients safe.
It’s important that we all do our part during these times to keep you and those around you safe and to prevent further spread of COVD-19. The world of dentistry is no longer at a standstill. The field continues to evolve and adapt. Even — and especially, during a pandemic — we are here for you!
Rachel Cantrell is a third-year dental student in the School of Dental Medicine at East Carolina University and a 2020-21 N.C. J Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow. She is a native of Washington.