From a routine tooth cleaning to an emergency root canal, dentists are having to suit up to check on people's pearly whites.
Dr. Robert Lipkowitz says suiting up means wearing a disposable gown, N-95 mask, a face shield, and gloves. His Magnolia-based Lipkowitz Dental Associates reopened in the beginning of June in conjunction with Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker's state reopening plan.
"My focus is always their best interest," Lipkowitz said of keeping his patients comfortable, safe, and happy. "That is why we spent so much time communicating with them and spending time really making sure that our safety protocols were good.
Lipkowitz's new normal requires each patient to complete a questionnaire two days before the appointment, an additional screening the day of, and a very detailed procedure for the actual visit.
"One of the things that has been very, very important to me is staying on time and respecting people's time. Now that is a little bit more difficult," he explained. "We have people waiting in their cars and we want to make sure that people aren't coming in while others are at the front desk, but it is working out really, really well."
Donald LeClair, of Beverly-based LeClair Dental LLC, has taken precautions a step further and created a device to limit the spread of germs.
He calls it the aerosol removal device.
LeClair's $8,000 device allows patients to hold an aerosol removal cone just below their chin to minimize aerosol development — airborne particles that can travel from oral cavities — during the appointment.
These two practices have found the new costs of doing business difficult.
"It is horrific," LeClair said. "All dentists are facing extraordinary cost increases."
He explained that an N95 mask — which are in low supply and high demand — costs $5, a disposable gown costs anywhere from $5 to $10, and a new washer and dryer to sanitize reusable gowns cost $2,000.
"Just in terms of hard equipment, this office has spent $10,000 in gearing up to make sure that we are doing everything possible to minimize the spread," he said.
While dentists across Massachusetts are finding some semblance of a routine in the office, work during the pandemic wasn't always in person.
When the novel coronavirus pandemic forced dentist offices to close across Cape Ann and the North Shore, employees turned to telehealth and webinars to prepare for the reopening.
"We were reading voraciously to see what the CDC guidelines were for reopening in Phase 2 for dental practices," said LeClair.
In addition to bracing themselves for a new normal, the LeClair father and daughter dentistry duo worked with patients over the phone.
"We did telehealth everyday," LeClair said. "With the technology of iPhones, we found that if a patient had a dental problem they could send us photographs."
He explained that he received photos of broken teeth, gum swelling, discoloration.
Now that their brick-and-mortar offices are up and running again, both Lipkowitz and the LeClairs are finding that slow business is picking up speed.
"When the practice reopened, I found that a lot of people have not been nervous about coming back, and it is very surprising," Lipkowitz said.
As people begin making more appointments each day, LeClair's hopes are high for the near future.
"We are moving towards 80% of our patient volume in the next week," he explained. "We are progressing and we are getting better."
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or email@example.com.