Northerners could soon get their pearly whites checked again – but a trip to the dentist won’t be business as usual.
Dr Hassan Adam, who owns Yellowknife’s Adam Dental Clinic, told Cabin Radio: “Things have changed in dentistry so much now. It’s not like we used to do it.”
Dental offices in the Northwest Territories have had to make a number of changes to comply with pandemic-related public health orders.
Among the new rules: they aren’t allowed to have waiting rooms, must maintain at least two metres’ distance between people where possible, put up barriers, improve ventilation, and use more personal protective equipment (PPE).
Adam said his clinic has installed air filters, floor markings to ensure social distancing, and clear dividers at reception.
“[There are] lots of little different things that we’ve had to change and I think a lot of these procedures will now be a standard, probably, for us going forward,” he said.
Dentistry is considered an essential service in the NWT but, since pandemic restrictions went into effect in March, only emergency procedures have been allowed.
Adam explained those are cases where patients are in pain, whether it’s their teeth or gums. Dental fillings, cleanings, and regular check-ups have been put on hold.
More services allowed soon
A spokesperson for the NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services said dental services in communities without private dental clinics have also been suspended.
However, all dental procedures will be allowed to return once phase two of the NWT’s plan to ease pandemic restrictions comes into effect. Dr Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, has said that could be as soon as Friday.
Adam said staff at his clinic will work in shifts so fewer people are in the building at a time. They’ll give more time between appointments to make sure respiratory droplets aren’t still in the air.
The clinic has enough PPE for now, he said, and has been ordering more when it’s available. He noted it’s a challenge to find N95 medical-grade masks, which dentists are required to wear for procedures like fillings, as they’re in high demand.
“Hospitals certainly need a priority because they’re working with cases of Covid and they get the first dip at it,” he said. “Whatever’s left goes to the rest of us. So it’s a hard-earned fight.”
Fewer patients, less staff
Adam said the pandemic had caused each dentist at his clinic to cancel around 800 appointments in the past two months. Rebooking those clients will be based on the urgency of the procedure.
“Sometimes, some people get upset because they’ve been waiting a long time, but we’ve been doing our best and trying to make sure and keep everybody happy as much as we can,” he said.
The clinic currently sees around two to three emergency patients a day compared to 80 or 90 patients before the pandemic. Once other procedures are allowed, Adam said staff will still only be able to see a maximum of 10 patients a day to comply with restrictions.
“It’s a big drop, huge drop. I would say 90-percent drop at least,” he said.
The clinic has a staff of almost 40 people but, during the pandemic, just a core few have been working. Adam said the clinic has gone from eight working dentists to one and six hygienists to none.
Adam said he is thankful for government subsidies that have addressed the fixed costs of his business.
“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “We’re still in the red and it’s going to be quite a while to catch back on again, to be where we used to be.”
Regardless of the challenges, Adam said safety is the most important thing. He says he is proud of the government officials who contained the spread of Covid-19 in the NWT.
“It’s a big disappointment when you get closed down,” he said, “but when you look back and see the results, you realize how lucky we have been.”