Local offices stress that it’s safe to go to the dentist

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Family Dentistry Associates of Monona, Waukon Dental and Dental Associates of Prairie du Chien are welcoming patients back for regular appointments. They’re following guidelines to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. Pictured are staff members from the Monona and Waukon offices: registered dental assistant Katie Polodna (left), registered and certified dental assistant Brittany Coleman, registered dental assistant Lindsay Lloyd, Dr. Jessica Wilke and registered dental assistant Denise Kuenster. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

Dr. Mark Fohey and the staff at Family Dentistry Associates of Monona remained busy even when dental offices were closed for elective procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We provided emergency care and saw a lot of people in distress—broken teeth, aches and swelling,” he said. “We were here a couple times a week. It was good to at least be able to do that.”

However, that was just a fraction of the patients the office, along with its related locations, Waukon Dental and Dental Associates of Prairie du Chien, would have seen over the same seven-week period. Between the three offices, over 1,900 appointments were canceled during the closure, many of them cleanings and check-ups.

“Now we’re contacting people we missed and trying to get them back on track,” Fohey said. 

There’s just one problem: patients have been hesitant to schedule appointments due to COVID-19 fears.

“It’s one of my biggest concerns and frustrations,” shared Fohey. “I’m convinced people are not acting based on facts but fear. Our office is one of the safest places you can go because we’re doing all the right things.”

Dentists, argued Fohey, are experts in infection control. They’ve practiced extensive health and safety measures for years, and have only added to that by following coronavirus-related guidelines issued by the Iowa and American dental boards and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To date, he added, no COVID-19 hot spots have been attributed to dental offices.

“But people are not giving us a chance to come in and see what we’re doing on their behalf and our behalf to make it a safe place,” he said.

What measures have been implemented? When confirming appointments, patients are screened over the phone, assuring they don’t have common COVID-19 symptoms or have knowingly been exposed to the virus. 

Upon arrival at the appointment, patients are instructed to call from the parking lot. The front door is locked, so a staff member lets them in. To follow social distancing recommendations, no walk-in visitors are allowed, in an effort to limit the number of people in the lobby and waiting room. Frequently-touched items in the waiting room, such as magazines and toys, have been removed.

 All patients are required to wear face masks when not undergoing dental procedures.

“If you don’t wear one, you don’t come in,” said Fohey. “People have postponed because they don’t want to wear a mask.”

Patient temperatures are taken when they arrive, and they’re again asked the series of screening questions. Afterward, patients go directly to a room for their appointment.

“Patients don’t interact with one another,” Fohey noted.

In addition to a plastic shield at the front desk, dental office staff are also heavily protected with PPE, including masks, face shields and gowns. Sanitization occurs frequently.

“We’ve taken a lot of additional time and expense in an effort to be open and make it safe. We’re following all the guidelines—and then some—and it’s not easy,” Fohey stressed.

If people are already regularly going to work, going shopping or going to the post office, he said a dental visit poses an even lesser risk.

“There’s no way to say there’s zero risk,” he admitted, “but we’re doing the best we can. We’re taking it all very seriously. We have the patients’ and staff’s best interests in mind.”

Regular dental visits are an essential aspect of overall health, and Fohey worries about the long-term effects deferred care could have on patients.

“We don’t want their dental care to suffer, for them to end up having problems in the end,” he said. “These things didn’t go away during the pandemic.”

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