Virginia doctors implement host of safety measures to protect patients and staff

As parts of Virginia prepare to enter phase one of reopening, more and more dentist offices are opening their doors. But what will a trip to the dentist look like in this age of COVID-19 and is it even safe to go?

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"Our patient experience has really changed, if you look around our waiting room there's no one here when you come in," said Dr. Peter Cocolis, a General dentist in Springfield, Virginia.

Dentists across the state are implementing a series of aggressive protocol changes and investing in extra PPE to help keep patients and staff safe. For starters, in most dentist offices the new waiting room is your car. Dr. Cocolis's patients are asked to wait in their cars until their appointment is called. This way there's less interaction and fewer people in the office at one time.


"The next step is there's a temperature screening. We want to make sure that they don't have have a fever. We go through a list of questions to make sure they don't have any symptoms of coronavirus," said Dr. Cocolis.

Patients are greeted with staff in masks, extra layers of PPE, and they have to do two mouth rinses.

"One is a peroxide that seems to show some positive signs of decreasing the virus, and the other is our typical one, an antibacterial rinse," he said.

Dentists and dental hygienists are thought to be among the most at risk of contracting the coronavirus because of the nature of their work when they treat patients.

"On top of wearing a mask and goggles we wear face shields to protect ourselves from that aerosol as a provider," said Dr. Cocolis.

Fairfax Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center in Alexandria has played a critical role during the pandemic. While dentist offices have been shut down, surgeon Dr. Daniel Winokur and his team have seen patients that could have otherwise ended up in the emergency room.

Dr. Winokur says once patients arrive, they must get a temperature check at the door. They also fill out a questionnaire to screen for Covid -9 symptoms. "We have spaced out our patient times to not have overlap with other patients, and very little time is spent in the common areas. Patients go back in the surgical rooms soon after they arrive, plus all of our rooms are sterilized every hour," said Dr. Winokur.

But still some Virginia dentists are afraid to open shop saying it's too soon.

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"We wanna have an abundance of caution before we bring people back into the office," said Dr. Samuel Cappiello in McLain Virginia.

Dr. Cappiello says he doesn't agree with Governor Ralph Northam's call to reopen their practices for routine care, but nevertheless he is gearing up for a soft hold opening on June 11th. In preparation his office is investing in rather pricey PPE to keep patients safe, from two air filtration units, to an aerosol suction unit.

"It's positioned right next to the patient's face and as we're working the aerosol is drawn up into the suction tube and it's filtered through a series of filters. It's also being exposed to ultraviolet light to kill any virus or bacteria," said Dr. Cappiello.

Across the board dentists agree that ignoring care can be the real danger.

"If it's for routine hygiene, tarter build up, come in. Certainly tooth aches, broken teeth should be evaluated and determined if something definitive needs to be done or is it safe to wait," he said.

Dr. Cappiello adds, "We definitely don't want people to wait until it gets to an emergency level cause and prompt them to want to go to an emergency room because they're much better treated in a dental setting than a hospital."