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Dental hygienists express fears over returning to work

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 11:51:37-04

FAIRLAWN, Ohio — Given the green light by Governor Mike DeWine to reopen on May 1, many Ohio dentists and orthodontists are preparing to ease back to business.

However, many dental hygienists are raising safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic and think it's too early to return to the job.

Kathrynn Seidel, 30, a hygienist in Berea, said she worries for employees and patients.

"We are in your mouth. We are 12 inches or less from your face, so we're creating the saliva and the aerosols that are flying around," Seidel said. "Their asymptomatic aerosoles are flying around and the next patient is breathing that in."

Seidel, who is temporarily laid off and collecting unemployment, is also concerned that many dentist offices are struggling to find enough personal protective equipment.

"We use a lot of of PPE during our procedures, so that's a big deal knowing that we can't get enough proper PPE right now," she said.

Dr. Zach Mellion, who owns Mellion Orthodontics in Fairlawn and Medina, believes he has enough PPE, including face shields, masks, gloves and googles. He has been told by vendors and suppliers that more PPE is becoming available.

He plans to reopen on Friday, but with a reduced number of patients. He expects the office will continue to operate with fewer patients than usual over the next few weeks.

"We're not trying to force anything on anybody. We're just excited to start treating our patients again and we're going to do everything we can to make sure everybody is safe," Mellion said.

In an effort to reduce congestion in the office, Mellion said patients will text the office when they arrive and then receive a text when it's time for them to be seen.

Once inside, temperatures will be taken, every other treatment chair will be used for social distancing purposes, and patients will use a hydrogen peroxide mouth rinse.

"We've been doing universal precautions since before they were cool. We've been dealing with viruses for a long time, so I feel people should feel safe going to the dentist," Mellion added.

However, Seidel wonders why dentists can get back to business if hair salons cannot. She said many dental hygienists are reaching out to state leaders urging a delay to Friday's reopening of dental practices.

"We're calling the health departments. We're emailing, calling Governor DeWine's office just to get our voice out there because we feel like we're not being heard," she said.

In a statement posted on April 27, Ohio Dental Association President Sharon Parsons said she was happy to share the news that dental offices can resume providing care.

Parsons also acknowledged concerns about procuring PPE.

"It is important that our patients, our staff and ourselves are protected as we begin to reopen. The ODA is working with suppliers to do our best to make the necessary PPE available to our members," she said.