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Preserving good health is especially crucial in a pandemic, and dental health is an important part of overall health and well-being. However, being at high risk for covid-19 could make some patients hesitant to come in for regular dental check-ups. Wondering how your dental practice can safely screen patients and minimize risk, as increasing numbers of patients return? We’ve assembled some helpful guidelines and resources.

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Communicate with your patients

For patients to feel comfortable attending their appointments, they must feel confident in their dental practice’s commitment to their safety. One way to put patients’ minds at ease is by sending out a “reassurance letter” through an online or physical newsletter. For an easy-to-use reassurance letter template, check out the example in the Return-to-Work Toolkit published by the American Dental Association. This customizable letter can be updated with your dental practice’s information and sent to patients.

It is also important to know which patients consider themselves immunocompromised (people with weakened immune systems) or at high risk for contracting covid. Consider sending a questionnaire through email or by mail, so that you can keep a list of those who may require extra precautions, care, or reassurance. For patients who respond “yes,” ensure that surgical masks are available for them at the entrance of the dental office, and consider implementing structural changes for added safety, outlined below.

For more information, see the CDC’s guide to How to Talk with Patients Who Are Immunocompromised.

Innovate appointment protocol

Establish a written protocol for immunocompromised patients. This can include:

  1. Pre-appointment screening calls

Pre-appointment screening phone calls determine a patient’s risk of exposure to covid-19. The American Dental Hygienists Association provides a questionnaire for patients to determine their risk level, which can be read aloud and completed by staff over the phone. Before hanging up, remind patients to wear a mask inside the office prior to their dental treatment. Don’t forget to periodically check the CDC’s website for updated guidance on wearing masks.

  1. Social distancing at the office

Encourage on-site social distancing by allowing patients to wait in their cars until their treatment room is prepared, rearranging waiting rooms with increased space between each seat, and removing any communal items in the waiting room such as toys or magazines.

  1. Sequenced patient scheduling

In order to limit exposure to other patients, some dental offices have begun implementing sequenced patient scheduling for high-risk individuals. This means slowing the influx of patients to one at a time for a predetermined time period. Through controlled foot traffic and thorough disinfection between each appointment, you can significantly lower patients’ risks of exposure to covid-19 and other viruses.

Communicate expectations with staff

All dental personnel must be educated about the hazards associated with treating high-risk patients and must be familiar with protective protocols and patient screening techniques. They must also be familiar with any new sanitization or safety measures in place during sequenced patient scheduling. Some expectations for staff might include:

Maintain a safe environment

The CDC’s Guidelines for Dental Settings offers a regularly updated guide to sanitization protocols for dental practices. Check back here for sanitation requirements as immunity rises.

More tips for maintaining safe and sterile conditions:

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Follow up post-appointment

It is recommended to follow up with your patients 10 days post-appointment to determine if any changes have occurred.

Other helpful precautions your dental practice can consider:

If patients need to cancel due to illness, consider waiving last-minute cancellation fee policies.

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