PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Before Rhode Islanders can sit down in a dentist chair to have their teeth cleaned, dental practices are required to follow a new set of guidelines to ensure patient safety.
Rhode Island Department of Health Dental Director Samuel Zwetchkenbaum tells Eyewitness News dental offices in Rhode Island have always been great at infection control, they’re just taking extra steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
He said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that dentists and hygienists spray down and thoroughly clean their entire room after every procedure.
Zwetchkenbaum said dentists should wait 50 minutes for the aerosol to settle before cleaning, adding that they’re “using barriers dentists have been using for quite awhile.”
“The record shows, the American Dental Association has shown, that there have not been any cases of COVID transmitted through dental care,” he said. “So I think that’s a testament to the infection control practices that the dental offices have been doing.”
Dr. Kenneth Rawlinson, a dentist at Smilemakers in East Providence, said he’s the only dentist that’s also a chemical engineer in the nation.
“I knew what I wanted to do to keep my people safe, to keep my patients safe and to keep myself safe,” Rawlinson said. “These extra levels of protection I feel are necessary.”
Rawlinson said he closed his practice for roughly three months and didn’t reopen until late May.
“As far as every day operations, we put engineering protocols in place to try and control the virus,” he said.
In addition to patient screenings prior to and day of the appointment, he’s also adding several filters throughout the building.
“It is capable of capturing and killing the virus and we’ve sized them where it turns over the entire volume of the room in five minutes,” he said. “Dentistry creates aerosols, as soon as I pick the drill up, an air water-spray begins and that will mist up and hang in the room.”
To help control the aerosol, Rawlinson said he has a series of special vacuums. He explained the vacuum pulls up next to a patient’s mouth to suck in the air.
“It will capture almost 100% of the aerosol that’s created,” he said. “Anything that comes out of the patient’s mouth will be caught with it.”
Rawlinson also said before a procedure begins, patients are required to swish a hydrogen peroxide mixture in their mouths for about a minute, which he says “is proven to kill COVID-19 in the mouth.”
“We try to control it at the source – if they have it – many of the people are asymptomatic and don’t know they have it,” he said.
Rawlinson said after a patient leaves, he sterilizes the room using a normal cleaning process and then re-cleans with a hydrogen peroxide misting spray. He said he then shines what he calls a “death light” into the room.
“We turn on these germicidal lamps, which are Ultraviolet C radiation bulbs,” he said. “You can’t be in the presence of these lights because they’re very damaging; anything the light touches dies. Any virus – any bacteria anything on the walls the ceilings, anywhere the light touches, that virus will die.”
Rawlinson said he has a wide variety of face masks, but said the hardest personal protective equipment (PPE) to find has been gowns.
Zwetchkenbaum said dentists have always worn PPE, but some are now layering themselves in it.
“Now you might see your dentist with an N-95 mask, a surgical mask over that, a face shield, a head covering,” he said.
Zwetchkenbaum said everything has been going really well so far.
“I think the dental hygienists and dental assistants who’ve all focused on getting Rhode Islander’s oral health back in shape have focused on a way to make this as healthy as possible,” he said.