We asked five dental professionals how Covid-19 has affected their businesses and what they predict will happen once the pandemic is over. Below, Dr. Martin Wanendeya says that the pandemic caught Great Britain off-guard and resulted in contradictory advice. At the same time, he hails a new culture of sharing within the dental community and offers a positive outlook on the future.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your everyday work, Dr. Wanendeya?
The UK was slower than many countries to respond. While dentists in different European countries started working under restrictions, we were working as normal – until suddenly we had to stop all clinical activity. We were closed for 10 weeks, during which all we could do was offer telephone advice and prescribe painkillers and antibiotics. This strategy was called the three A’s – advice, analgesics and antibiotics.
Getting back to work was again chaotic. We were watching the Prime Minister on TV and as he spoke about a totally unrelated subject, the newsreel below him read “dentists to reopen from 8th June”. We were told on TV, with no prior warning, and at the same time as the rest of the country, that we could go back to work again. Yet, we had no clear guidelines as to exactly what treatments we could and could not perform.
Then followed multiple sets of guidelines from various organizations. Many of these contained contradictory advice. There were also differences in opinion about what procedures carried a high risk of transmission of corona virus and what to do to protect yourself, the patient and the team.
In the end we re-opened the doors, but we learned that the UK system is very fractured with three or four main governing bodies and no clear indication of who is actually in charge of each part of the profession, in which regions of the country. The regulations are different in Scotland and Wales and as well as this, there is a divide between how National Health Service (NHS) and private dentists are treated.
A good thing to emerge was the communication and sharing of ideas and information (and occasionally disinformation!) between many dentists, and the crucial role that social media played in this. Another was the inception of a body to represent private dentistry in the UK – The British Association of Private Dentistry – which was not looked after at all by the dental bodies during this time.
What is your current situation like? Have you begun treating patients again?
The profession is now split. Most NHS dentists are doing very limited work and receiving some government support. Private dentists are open but working at level 3 restrictions (5 is the highest and 1 the lowest). We have to distinguish between aerosol generating procedures (AGP) and non-AGP. We have had buy additional equipment as well as put a lot of work into the practice standard operating procedures (SOP’s) and we have to wear fit-tested FFP2 and FFP3 masks. Some dentists and their teams choose to wear HAZMAT suits with respirator hoods.
What has been the most profound change to your daily business due to Covid-19?
The biggest change is fallow time. We have to leave at least 60 minutes between patients to allow any aerosol to settle. The only alternative to this is to invest in equipment to allow more frequent air changes in the surgery, which would reduce this time.
Do you think Covid-19 will have a lasting effect on implant dentistry? If so, how?
I don’t think Covid-19 will have a long-lasting effect as, for many people, treatment is more of a “need” than a “want”. Many people will always prefer the stability, comfort and health benefits of implants above some of the other options available.
Where I see changes in the short-term are in the confidence that vulnerable patients have with traveling into the surgery. The other effect that we have to take into account is the population’s confidence in the economy and their finances.
We also have to acknowledge the damage that this has done to the laboratory industry, as they are also suffering due to Covid-19.
What are your general thoughts on the future for implant dentistry?
I feel that the long-term future is bright for implant dentistry, but we are expecting a reduction in activity in the short-term. The combination of innovation and research will continue to be important, as it allows quicker, simpler and more cost-effective treatments for patients.
With development of solutions in the market place, I think that this is a good time to consider the transition to digital for many dental practitioners. I also predict that more dentists will consider chairside milling solutions, or alternatively invest in the right digital solutions, so they can offer one-visit dentistry for their patients.
Read more about how other dental professionals are affected by and experience the pandemic: