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Dental offices trying to reopen show how hard back-to-work can get

Wendy Ruderman and Sarah Gantz, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

Seta MacCrory describes herself as a "dental cupid."

She matches up hygienists looking for temporary work with dentists in need of staff through her business, Substitoothfairy, which she runs out of her Delaware County, Pa., home.

Before COVID-19, MacCrory facilitated 300 matches each month. Now that number is close to zero.

On May 8, the Pennsylvania Department of Health set new safety guidelines for reopening dental practices. Since then, MacCrory said, she's been flooded with calls from dentists desperate to restart their practices, but struggles to find hygienists willing to risk constant exposure to saliva and respiratory droplets that could be swarming with the coronavirus.

As a licensed hygienist with diabetes, MacCrory, 36, said she understands her peers' concerns. But she sympathizes with dentists who call her, "crying, telling me they have two more months before they completely fold."

"I see all angles," she said. "My head is spinning. I'm in the eye of the storm."

 

Saliva, tartar buildup, bleeding gums: As businesses lurch toward reopening, there may be no workforce facing as tough a challenge as dentists and hygienists. The very nature of their work can put them at high risk for the coronavirus. Yet most hygienists work for independent dental practices that must reopen if they want to survive.

On top of all that, numerous dentists and hygienists told The Inquirer, the state's vague protocols do little to help -- and potentially much to hurt.

"We will be right on the front line -- in the mouth, working with the bacteria that spread COVID," said Tahita Ross, a hygienist who is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and Delaware. "I mean, we can't help but work in saliva. And that's how it's transmitted, through droplets. Now that I'm talking about it, it's like making me scared."

During the initial weeks of the pandemic, the state Health Department advised dentists to suspend any procedures that aren't emergencies. That's no longer the case.

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