A Glimpse Into My First Month Back

Dr. Michael Romenesko, Co-Founder, Independent Dental Solutions

As Covid-19 began its path of destruction through the country over the last few months, we as dentists were faced with many unique obstacles. How we responded to what seemed like daily changes to our industry and how we utilized the available resources to navigate through the uncertainty, was crucial to maintain not only our sanity, but our long-term success as well.

Now that I have been “back in business” for a month, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my learnings thus far and highlight the fact that many of the changes and strategies implemented for Covid-19 have actually helped to improve the safety of dentistry moving forward.

The phrase “the new normal” has been thrown around a lot since the beginning of the pandemic.  At first it felt like a very pessimistic view of the situation. To me, it felt like the phrase meant that COVID-19 would be around forever and there was nothing we could do to return to the way things were. As time passed however, and after talking with my father about his experiences over the 41 years of his dental career, I began to notice a historical trend in our profession. There have been many other times dentists have had to adapt to changes that were at times, quite shocking and disruptive.

Initially, many dentists found the mandate that required practitioners to wear gloves and masks to be an irresponsible and unreasonable request. They worried they would lose the tactile edge that made them such excellent clinicians. Some felt that at the end of the day, a little herpetic whitlow was worth it to ensure no caries were left behind. HIV was another incredible disruptor to the “normal” way dentists practiced up that point as well. As more was learned about HIV, the more things changed with regards to safety measures implemented.

At the time, both of these instances brought significant, and for many, uncomfortable periods of change. In hindsight, we are able to clearly see how these periods of change have made dentistry safer than it was previously.

I now believe “the new normal” applies, not to the pessimistic view that Covid-19 will last forever and wreak havoc on the business and practice of dentistry. Instead, I believe “the new normal” will encourage us to all take a more serious look into the potential shortfalls within our universal precautions and daily protocols.

Prior to the pandemic, most of us were not wearing surgical caps, disposable gowns, face shields, respirator masks, etc. Just as thinking about practicing dentistry bare-handed makes me uneasy, so does the fact that prior to the pandemic many dentists allowed patient’s saliva, blood and germs to hit them in the face around their mask and loupes. We allowed it to get in our hair and on our clothes that weren’t protected by our clinic gown. Many of us would wear the same shoes from our clinic to our home. We would sit on our couch, eat food and hug our children after work. Essentially “bringing work home” with us in the worst way imaginable.

We all knew our protocols weren’t perfect, but they did work pretty well.  Our profession was not going to change until we had to. Were we safe prior to the pandemic?  The short answer is not as safe as we are now. In my opinion, many of the changes that Covid-19 forced into our lives as dentists will be viewed similarly to the sentiment “We’re finally wearing gloves.”

While, I am focusing on the silver lining in all of this, I will confess there are many things I miss and hope return as quickly as possible.

I miss the days of being able to shake hands with my patients.

I miss the ability to see people smile unobstructed by a mask while in our hallways.

I miss the times when I didn’t have to worry about supply shortages or how my front office would hand a pen to a patient safely.

There are many things that I miss about the way things used to be and I know that things won’t be the same, even when things return to “normal”. Yet, I am confident that we will adapt and things will be good again and in some cases, even better than they were before. As our profession has done many times in the past, we will face this time of change and its challenges head-on and come out stronger and safer in the end.

 

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