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Las Vegas dental hygienists concerned about returning to work

Posted at 3:30 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 00:14:17-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas dentists are navigating how to reopen safely, but some dental hygienists have fears about going back to work.

Dr. Matt Welebir, the owner of P3 Dental Group, wears several layers of personal protective equipment every day. His equipment includes scrubs, shoes he can sterilize, a full gown, head cap, N95 mask with a level 3 mask on top of it, gloves, and a face shield. He has a sterilizing routine for his equipment and office every day.

Dr. Welebir says he's been working through the pandemic because his offices had appropriate gear from the start. The problem is, not all dental offices do.

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"80 percent of the patients I've been seeing are new to me. They're so grateful to be seen by us with abscesses, root canals, wisdom teeth, pain. That's what we've been treating primarily. We're slowly getting back to a sense of norm with cavities; decay only gets larger with time, hygiene services," Dr. Welebir added.

Other valley dentists are slowly putting routine cleaning services back on their schedules, but some hygienists are afraid to go back to work.

The American Dental Hygienists' Association argues that it's too soon for anything but emergency procedures. The Nevada Dental Hygienists' Association wrote a letter to Gov. Steve Sisolak asking him to postpone routine dental procedures.

"We have continued to recommend postponement of any elective and non-emergency care across the country in alignment with the CDC and OSHA, who are also making that recommendation," said Matt Crespin, president of the American Dental Hygiene Association.

Aerosols are the main cause of concern for dental hygienists, as they are moisture droplets that hang in the air and are often produced by the instruments that dental hygienists use.

Aerosols would easily spread a respiratory disease like COVID-19, according to the CDC.

"One of my fears is that a dental office is the next big outbreak point like we see in meatpacking plants. I don't know that would be the case, but the close proximity that we work with patients in and the unavailability of PPE in a lot of cases would put people at high risk," Crespin said.

Dr. Welebir says they will soon have the equipment to mitigate aerosol concerns.