'Lots of things have changed': Minnesota dental clinics welcome back some patients

Dental clinics across Minnesota began welcoming back additional patients in need of care this week.

The Governor’s pandemic orders now allow for so-called “elective” procedures, including semi-urgent extractions and the completion of treatments that might have been put on hold like root canals as well as temporary crowns and bridges.

“I’ve very eager to finish those cases so that they can feel good about having a strong tooth or strong smile again,” said David Louis, a HealthPartners dentist.

Louis has helped spearhead the group’s effort to beef up the tele-dentistry consults during the pandemic. This week, he was fitted for an N-95 mask for the first time in his career as new safety protocols require dentists and other care providers to wear the face wear with an additional surgical mask on top and then a shield.

Given how easily COVID-19 appears to spread through aerosolized respiratory droplets and saliva, safety comes first.

“Everything carries a risk,” Louis said. “We’re trying to minimize risk.”

To help reduce that risk, dental offices have undergone a facelift.

“Lots of things have changed,” said Todd Thierer, the HealthPartners associate dental director.

Waiting areas are spread out, water fountains are shut down and patients must keep masks on.

They are also screened for the coronavirus and asked to rinse with a peroxide solution to help kill any disease before procedures begin.

One change you may notice next time you are in a treatment room is no photos, pictures and posters on the walls. Also, the rooms will sit for 60 minutes between patients so the aerosols can settle and then the room will be sanitized.

“We’ve also staggered appointments,” Thierer said. “You can see, not many people are here now. That’s intentional.”

One patient every hour went through the Coon Rapids clinic while FOX 9 was there. They adhered to social distancing guidelines.

As for standard cleanings, the Health Department has not issued guidance yet, so check with your provider to see if they are offering teeth cleanings right now. The goal is for the healthcare community as a whole to preserve valuable personal protective equipment for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients in the weeks ahead.