The coronavirus 19 pandemic has without a doubt affected the lives of everyone around the world in one way or another. Dentistry is no exception. With new procedures, mental health concerns and a loss of earnings for almost everyone within the sector, adapting to the ‘new normal’ is still ongoing.
An AGP (Aerosol Generating Procedure) must be followed by a 60-minute fallow time, allowing droplets created by the AGP to settle, after which, decontamination of the surgery can commence. During the fallow time, the dental surgery is unusable. ‘Dentists say they are operating at a third of their usual capacity’ (inews.co.uk) and the fallow time is a major contributing factor.
The amount and standard of PPE that the dental team are required to wear has also increased. This will put an increased pressure financially for the practice to provide the PPE. For those who suffer with claustrophobia, an increased anxiety can occur when dressed in full PPE for extended periods of time.
How Can this Extra Time be Used?
This time could be used to schedule ‘lunch and learn’ sessions to help the team keep on top of their CPD requirements. Learning together as a group can be a team building activity as well, helping keep morale up.
With less appointments available, it is important now more than ever to increase oral health promotion. This could be done by creating information leaflets specific to the patients who attend that practice. They can be sent to patients through post or email. Therapists could host online sessions for parents with young children demonstrating tooth brushing and giving diet advice.
According to a survey carried out by the Dental Defence Union (DDU) ‘almost 70% of dental professionals feel they are experiencing higher stress and anxiety levels as a result of the pandemic’ (dentistry.co.uk). With the changes to procedures, the extra PPE required and the uncertainty surrounding dentistry’s future, there is no wonder why the percentage is so high.
It is also of note that due to daily patient contact and working in close proximity with patients, jobs within the dentistry sector have been reported as some of the highest risk jobs that expose workers to covid-19. This will no doubt be adding to the anxiety among most of these professionals.
How Can Mental Wellbeing Be Supported?
Managers need to know how their staff are feeling and what support they need. One to ones can be a way of allowing staff to speak freely about their concerns and feel they are being listened to. Being open and honest about what is expected of them will help with any doubts or concerns they may have had. Asking what support they need will make them feel their wellbeing is being taken seriously and that they are a valued member within the team. It also encourages them to take control of their own wellbeing, making them think about solutions rather than just the problem.
With the situation of the pandemic always changing, it is important for managers to keep having this conversation with staff, not making it a one-time occurrence. As the government changes rules and restrictions for the pandemic, mental wellbeing will keep on changing and it is up to managers to ensure their staff continue to feel that their wellbeing is being looked after at work.
Loss of Earnings
Due to working at a reduced capacity to work in line with new procedures, a loss of earnings for dental practices is at an all time high. Some dental practitioners have also ‘fallen through the cracks of any government grants to help’ (dentistry.co.uk).
The British Dental Association (BDA) has outlined four suggestions for practice owners who are under financial pressure. These are:
- Use the furlough scheme;
- Lay off employees on guarantee pay;
- Agree reduced hours;
- Consider redundancies.
As with everything surrounding Covid-19, managers will not have had to deal with this before on this scale. It is of paramount importance for them to ensure they follow all government legislation surrounding employment. To do this, it would be wise to use the company’s HR department or hire an outside HR organisation to help navigate through these difficult decisions.
Without a vaccine available, we do not know how long this new way of working will continue and therefore we do not know when dentistry will be back to operating at its normal capacity. Going forward we do not know what the pandemic will bring, but the dental industry has policies and procedures in place that seem to be keeping staff and patients safe. With infection rates going up again in the UK, perhaps this is the most we can expect for the time being.