It was announced last week that from June 29, all dental practices in Northern Ireland will offer non-urgent dental care treatments that are non-aerosol generating.

Permitted procedures from this date will include extractions, removing dental decay and placing temporary fillings and making dentures.

Ciara McGinley, a lead dentist at Blueapple dental care in Belcoo spoke to The Impartial Reporter about the challenges that she will face when the practice reopens on June 29.

“Our biggest challenge will be seeing as many patients as we can as quickly as possible. It is going to be busy as we haven’t been able to see patients face-to-face for almost three months,” said Ciara.

She explained that all patients will be triaged by phone which will help them identify who needs to be seen first.

“We will be seeing patients based on their clinical need and initially we will need to prioritise patients with emergency conditions, those who were in the middle of a course of treatment,” said Ciara, adding that they are maximising diaries to ensure they see as many patients as they can: “We hope to be able to offer the full range of treatments that our patients expect as soon as government guidance allows.”

Noting that the last three months have been frustrating for both patients and dentists, Ciara added: “We are looking forward to seeing patients back in our practice for face-to-face treatments as this is a positive step.”

Ciara explained that the practice will be implementing new health and safety measures for when they reopen: “The patient journey will be different from what we would have offered before now. We always pride ourselves in offering a very personal service however in light of the current restrictions and in order to improve staff and patient safety in relation to Covid-19 we have had to implement some changes.”

Outlining these new measures, she said: “Patients will need to make prearranged appointments before coming into the practice. Where possible they will have already filled out any necessary paperwork online. Appointments will be staggered so that patients will not be entering or leaving the building at the same time. On entering the building their temperature will be checked and again we will ask them to answer some basic questions in relation to Covid-19. They will be provided with hand sanitiser and a mask to be worn for the duration, except during treatment. The patient is then accompanied straight to the surgery for their appointment. Our aim is to minimise the amount of time the patient needs to spend in the waiting area.”

As the dental practice is a clinical environment, dental teams are always focused on infection control and prevention (IPC) but as a result of the pandemic, they have undergone enhanced IPC training in readiness to treat patients face-to-face again.

“In addition, PPE has always been worn by our clinical teams in the practice, but the new safety measures mean that patients and our clinicians will now be wearing enhanced PPE to minimise the risk of cross contamination during treatments,” added Ciara.

Although Blueapple’s doors were physically closed during lockdown, the practice was open for telephone triage service throughout to support patients with advice and care.

“This meant we were able to offer an onward referral to a designated practice if emergency treatment was required. This really helped people who needed urgent care in the interim however, we are very much looking forward to seeing our patients in the practice again and getting back to what we do best,” said Ciara.

It is intended that on July 20 there will be a full return of routine dental care by all practices, including aerosol-generating procedures. When asked what extra safety measures will be required to perform these treatments, Ciara explained: “For aerosol generating procedures we are required to wear additional enhanced PPE which will include a fully fit tested respirator mask, disposable gowns and visors. After each aerosol generating procedure the surgery is required to be left unoccupied for one hour to allow for any aerosols to fall. There will then be an additional 20 minutes to allow for thorough disinfection of all surfaces within the surgery and ensure patient and staff safety.”

As June 29 looms, Ciara commented that she is “looking forward to getting back to work”. She said: “It has been very frustrating for both patients and dentists that we have been unable to offer the high standard of care we normally strive for over the last few months. I know I speak for many dentists when I say we are very much looking forward to getting back to work.”

She continued: “However, it is important that we all understand that while we are still in phase two and even phase three of the reopening of dental practices, we will need to prioritise appointments by clinical need initially. We will be working very hard to try and accommodate as many people as we can.”

Offering advice on maintaining good oral health, Ciara said: “In the meantime, I would remind people to look after their oral health. Remember to brush and floss your teeth twice a day, limit any sugary snacks to mealtimes. Also, if you feel you have a dental issue please call your dentist and don’t wait until your routine exam even if it was postponed.”