Dental practices reopen to routine care amid both relief and caution

Inman Park Dentistry is finally back in business, three months after the Atlanta dental practice shut down to all but emergency patients because of the pandemic.

Owner Dr. Alex Rodriguez says their returning clients will notice the staff is wearing a lot of protective equipment, from masks, to face shields, to gloves and gowns.

"By the nature of our jobs, we are at a lot of risk," Dr. Rodriguez says.  "We're putting our faces inches away from everybody else's faces for a half an hour at a time, and that's so contrary to what the rest of us have all been doing."

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Rodriguez has spent the last few months stockpiling protective equipment, or PPE, especially hard-to-find protective masks known as N95 respirators.

They scaled back operations in late March, treating only dental emergencies, like patients with abscesses or severe infections, who could not wait for care.

Still, there are a lot of people, he says, whose dental issues have been on hold for a while now, and who need treatment soon.

"Most dentists, that's our biggest concern, is that somebody who had something that was close to flaring up on them two months ago, what is that like now," Rodriguez says.  "It's getting worse."

They are checking patients' temperatures and vital signs, as they come in the door, trying to make sure they are not infected with the novel coronavirus.

Rodriguez says his team is also asking patients to rinse with peroxide-based mouthwash prior to their treatment, something he has read may slow the spread of the virus.

"There's not a lot of hard science behind this stuff,” he says.  "This stuff is so new.  I'm trying anything we think may help, and every little bit that makes us feel a little safer and potentially reduces the chance of infection is always worth it."

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Dr. Rodriguez knows some of his patients are nervous about coming back to his dental chair, and he understands.

"If they're concerned, if they feel like they're in a high-risk category, we'll reschedule," he says. "We don't have to have you come in right now, but there are plenty of patients who are very eager.  More people are very understanding.  These are obviously not normal times."