NORFOLK, Va. - When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr. David Marshall saw his Norfolk dental practice change dramatically.
March 16 was the last day the office saw patients in what was then considered normal circumstances.
For seven weeks after, Dr. Marshall worked alone, without hygienists and assistants, treating only emergency patients while an Executive Order from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was in effect prohibiting most dental procedures during the pandemic.
The order expired last week and now dentists across the Commonwealth are trying to navigate how to treat patients, while maintaining safety for everyone.
For Dr. Marshall, a big piece of that is ensuring his staff feels comfortable returning to work.
"What I’m doing with my staff right now is we’re going through training for getting back to work," he told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.
"Dentists are not unfamiliar with universal precautions, but this is a new virus. We're learning what steps we need to take to combat the spread of the virus to us – to me and my staff - as well as the patients."
The Virginia Dental Association has issued guidelines for re-entry into dental practices, including information on screening, best practices in offices, and use of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE.
Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds is the President of the VDA Board of Directors and has helped provide guidance and recommendations to Governor Northam and dental professionals across Virginia about safely reopening.
Treating patients, Dr. Reynolds says, is important for catching health problems early and preventing treatable conditions from landing patients in emergency rooms, which can put a strain on the system.
"We know that the mouth is the entrance to the body. Oral health is certainly part of overall health and anything we can do to contain that and keep everything managed has an effect throughout the body," Dr. Reynolds told Corillo.
In Norfolk, Dr. Marshall says the return of patients to his practice this week will be a slow and measured process.
"We’re not going back as business as usual. We’re going to screen patients in the parking lot, extending appointments to be longer, bring in less high-risk patients in first."
Barriers controlling flow in dental offices and reducing the volume of people inside at once to promote social distancing will be the new norm.
Some offices are asking patients to remain in their cars and wait to be called inside, where they are directly taken to operatories for treatment.
Dr. Marshall says being methodical is the name of the game right now.
"We’re not going in like cowboys, we’re starting off slowly and just gradually getting back to a safe new standard."