When the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the Five Boroughs in March, dentists offices were largely shut down for all but emergency treatments. Now, as the city gradually reopens, dental practices are starting to get back to business — but under stricter health and safety guidelines.
Williamsburg dentist Dr. Lilya Horowitz of Domino Dental was one of many practices that had to quickly adapt to the new reality of the virus in the spring.
“It all happened very fast, in like a three-day period,” she said.
While practices were still allowed to take emergency visits and perform urgent care during the closures, Horowitz decided to completely put her S. Fourth Street office on pause because she runs a smaller operation.
“I don’t have a lot of patients that are walking around with emergency issues, so I didn’t anticipate a lot of emergency calls,” she said. “Because of that, we decided to close to see what the guidelines were going to be.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed dentists to reopen on June 1, making the business one of the last health care services to get the green light.
Due to the nature of their work, dentists are exposed to a lot of aerosols (tiny respiratory droplets that are a major factor in spreading the coronavirus), so the tooth doctors have to take extra care to reopen.
According to New York State guidelines, that includes allowing for social distancing and avoiding crowding, especially indoors, as well as screening patients, upping the amount of personal protective equipment, and implementing rigorous cleaning and disinfectant protocols.
PPE is nothing new for dentists, who have had to routinely wear much of the protective gear for most procedures well before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one Midwood dentist.
“We’ve always worn masks, gowns and shields,” said Dr. Joseph Lichter who runs a practice on Avenue P. “This is not new stuff for us, we’re just tightening our protocols.”
Dr. Lichter was still seeing patients twice a week for emergencies during the shutdown, but has since reopened with more protective gear and equipment to keep the offices clean, such as air purifiers and ultraviolet light.
Dr. Horowitz has instituted similar measures, and added protocols like doing all the paperwork digitally, taking patients’ temperatures with touchless thermometers, as well as offering them a disinfectant rinse when they arrive.
For all new patients, she conducts a 10-minute virtual visit to go over their paperwork and get to know them, thereby cutting down on the time people have to spend in the offices in person.
“It just makes it a bit easier to get through that before they even come to the office,” Dr. Horowitz said.
Several of her patients have left town during the viral outbreak, but she said that she’s starting to make up the loss of some patients with newcomers too.
For Dr. Lichter, while patients are returning, his office remains short-staffed.
The southern Brooklyn dental professional remains confident that his business will bounce back from the pandemic closures, with their increased health and safety guidance.
“I feel very optimistic because we’re doing what we normally do, now we’re doing it even better,” he said. “Everyone needs to go to the dentist at some point.”
Some might be hesitant to get their teeth treated, even as infection rates for the virus have slowed down significantly in the city. Dr. Horowitz says it’s all about doing your research to make sure your dentist is adhering to state guidelines.
“I definitely understand the fear,” she said. “But if you’re going somewhere that’s doing all the protocols and doesn’t have a lot of people in the offices at the same time, I think it’s very safe.”