None of us are strangers to the struggles and stresses of COVID-19. No matter the nature of your business or industry, figuring out the road to recovery will have been a massive priority over the past few months.
Amongst the industries most affected by the national lockdown were dental practices, with all routine dental care in England suspended from 25 March until 8 June.
Thankfully, after two-and-a-half months, dental practices across the UK could begin operating again. But with this came a whole host of new obstacles. Namely, all the safety measures needed to remain COVID-19-compliant.
In August, The Office of Chief Dental Officer England (OCDO) released a guide to assist and support dental practices when resuming dental care. Using this, we’ve put together the key considerations for dental practices to make when resuming operations during the pandemic.
Aerosol-generating procedures (AGP) are exactly what they say on the tin: any medical and patient care procedures that result in the production of airborne particles (aerosols). Causes may include high-speed handpieces used in routine procedures and surgery, high-speedthree-in-one air syringes, or instruments powered by air compressors.
As is to be expected with an airborne virus, AGPs are a key concern when it comes to reducing virus spread and keeping dental practices safe.
This is why it has been recommended for dental practices to minimise AGPs as much as possible. And, if they are necessary, to leave a fallow period of one hour after any AGP before re-entering and disinfecting a room. This allows time for any droplets to settle and maintains maximum safety for staff and patients alike.
The main issue with this guidance is that hours of downtime will significantly reduce the amount of procedures that can be carried out each day. And considering up to 8 million dental procedures were cancelled during lockdown, with a lot of patients to catch up on, efficiency is even more imperative.
LEVELS OF VENTILATION
An important factor to consider when navigating AGPs is the level of ventilation in a room. Rooms with more air changes per hour (ACH) can benefit from a shorter fallow period. Ordinarily, procedure rooms might have 6 ACH and require sixty minutes of downtime following a procedure. Rooms with 10-12 ACH will only require twenty minutes of downtime.
When it comes to daily productivity and trying to recover as quickly as possible from the pandemic, this forty-minute saving can make a massive difference.
With this in mind, practices can consider their options for greater natural ventilation (noting that all internal doors and windows must remain closed during periods of downtime), mechanical ventilation, or mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) units. These can all be effective at achieving the 10-12 ACH needed to reduce downtime and maximise operational efficiency.
Another area of discussion within the guide relates to the use of PPE during treatment.
It looks at the resulting increase in body temperature when wearing plastic gowns. This can in-turn lower the productivity and efficiency of staff.
An effective solution to this problem could be to provide local cooling units, commonly known as a split system. This includes an indoor unit to provide cool air and anoutdoor unit that maintains the fridge cycle.
In short, the road to recovery for dental practices isn’t likely to be straightforward or simple. But it’s important that practices are making the necessary changes to continue operating safely and maximise their efficiency during such an uncertain period.