‘It’s been surreal’: With added precaution, Queens dentists get back to work

Open female mouth during oral checkup at the dentist. Selective
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Dental practices across New York City and the country shuttered their offices to the general public, offering their services exclusively to emergencies and urgent matters, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as the city gradually reopens, dental practices are starting to resume operation.

Dr. Richard Corbin of Corbin Dental was among many dentists forced to cut their general practice short. Despite this, he — along with Dr. Bruce Corbin — continued emergency care through the pandemic, seeing patients in East Elmhurst, Bayside and Oyster Bay.

“There was emergency care and the patients were very nervous to seek care at the hospitals, especially Elmhurst Hospital with the extreme patient overload from COVID-19 during April and May,” Corbin said. “We worked with a number of staff that braved the way with us through the worst of the infections. We recently had a dinner out together and celebrated that no one of us got sick [and for] all the patients we helped through the crisis and shutdown.”

When time came to be back in business, dental practices had to revise their conventions in order to heed Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines.

“It has been surreal. We as dentists have always protected the public in offices,” Corbin said. “When I started, AIDS was the big scare. We have had numerous scares with SARS1, swine flu, avian flu, of course hepatitis B. The dental offices are always protecting against possible infection. This virus is just more contagious and airborne and that has been a big issue for everyone. I believe that the risks are real and we all need to wear face masks and try [to] keep the volume of people lower so that we social distance especially in the smaller spaces.”

Corbin Dental offices are equipped with personal protection equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks, and are currently supplied with oral mist vacuums for hygienists to employ in dental cleanings, according to the practice.

Corbin further detailed that plastic barriers are up; social distancing is being practiced both in the waiting rooms and outside the office; temperatures are regularly taken; and patients are asked to wait in their cars when waiting room densities are high.

“It is difficult but we are operating well now that we have gotten used to this new normal,” he said. “It has been an adjustment for everyone. The staff are very hot under the extra gowns and masks and it is summer time! Patients are happy to be coming back in and they are glad we instituted the new protocols for the office.”

Dr. Inessa Kandov of Bayview Orthodontics has adopted similar practices in her office.

“We have significantly elevated our already stringent protocols of sterilization and infection control in the office, and we are regularly disinfecting common areas and surfaces that are frequently touched. All members of our team are being evaluated daily to make sure they are at peak health, and we are utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) for examinations and treatments,” according to the practice’s webpage.

Other guidelines and safety measures are found on the site, including the required mask upon arrival that must fully cover the nose, mouth and chin, plus a pre-appointment screening with a questionnaire and a no-contact temperature check. HEPA and UV light air purifiers have been installed in the office, rotating between rooms for thorough disinfection after use. Hand sanitizer stations are located around the premises, and patients are requested to arrive at appointments alone unless accompanying a minor in order to control patient density.

“I have patients washing their hands and then rinsing their mouths with peroxyl mouthwash just to reduce the viral load,” Kandov said. “I make sure that I never see more than one or two patients at the same time and they’re always at opposite ends of the office, but it’s usually one patient scheduled per visit. I try to completely keep things separate and keep as few people in the office as possible. We’re wearing N95 or KN95 masks, shields, or goggles and I started wearing scrubs for the first time in nine years.”

In spite of fears associated with the risk of contracting the virus, both Corbin and Kandov claim that patients are regularly continuing to visit their doctors for dental care.

However due to scheduling tailored to reduce patient volume and to allow for thorough cleaning of the spaces, fewer patients are seen on a day-to-day basis than normal, according to Corbin.

“We are not seeing as many patients as before the pandemic — this is due to timing and cleaning more rigorously. But we want the patients to know that at Corbin Dental we are trying our best to be safe and that they need to address their oral care or it will not end well,” Corbin said.

“I would say I have about five to eight patients who are still apprehensive and they’ve held off on coming in, but they just need time,” Kandov observed. “I’ve had plenty of patients that are new. I think that as a result of people wearing masks, I’ve seen a rise in adults starting treatment. Since masks obscure their faces, it’s now fine for them to wear braces or Invisalign — which is so funny, I hadn’t anticipated that.”

Despite the constant uncertainty and fear looming in the air, Kandov insists that the doctor-patient relationship remains as strong as ever.

“I’ve seen a lot of patients become very anxious. This is a very troublesome and scary time for a lot of people, but I haven’t changed my relationship with my patients. Instead, it has made me realize how much I have missed them. They’re like family to me at this point,” she said. “The only thing that has changed is that this situation has made people more cognizant of cleanliness and hygiene. All other healthcare providers and I are doing everything we can to alleviate the fears and anxieties patients feel. To me, my patient is number one and of utmost importance. That is the motto of my office — everything revolves around the patient. We always want to make a happy, comforting, safe space for our patients and their families. We’ve made sanitary changes, but our relationship to our patients is resolute.”

“I think we are in new order for the next few years at least with the pandemic. We realize that life has become more simple. We appreciate our homes and eating meals together. There will be changes in how we work and socialize for a very long time. The dental offices will always be a necessary care and I am hoping that we can get back to normal, the new normal and life can be comfortable during this rough time,” Corbin said.

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