'Wait until it's safe': Minnesota dental offices face uncertainty as other states reopen

COVID-19 has effectively shut down the dental industry, with Minnesota offices only open for emergency visits so hospitals don't get overwhelmed.

Industry experts say if dentists and orthodontists aren't able to open back up, many practices will go out of business. But, how to safely clean people's teeth has a lot of hygienists concerned.

One dental hygienist, who preferred not to disclose her name because of job security fears, is highly concerned about potentially returning back to work soon.

“We have to remember that we took a professional oath to do no harm and so in my opinion now is not the time to get your teeth cleaned - wait until it’s safe,” she said. “It’s impossible for us to social distance when we are working 12 inches from a patient’s open mouth. We are not only concerned for our own safety, but for the safety of our patients.”

The dental industry has been shut down for weeks now except for emergency visits, but as other states relax their guidelines and allow for dental offices to reopen, many in Minnesota are conflicted about what to do.

“There’s been a lack of guidance from the CDC and OSHA on how to deal with these aerosols, so a lot of us are afraid to go back to work right now,” she said.

The Minnesota Dental Association said if clinics continue to stay closed even through June, nearly 18 percent of them will go under.

On Monday, a big shipment of PPE came in solely for dental offices, and about 50,000 masks are being distributed with more on the way.

Inver Grove Heights orthodontist Vladimir Leon and a local lab created a disinfectant tool, which will help speed up the process of spraying down offices in between visits. It's now being distributed to dental offices nationwide in hopes the industry is able to safely reopen and keep their practices running.

“We have been working hard as a dental community. Our first priority is to protect our patients, serve our patients. I think this is a new challenge for everyone, but in the middle of this pandemic, I think we can find the best care possible here in Minnesota and we are ready for that,” Dr. Leon said.