Dentists are dealing with patient backlogs after most offices were closed for two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clinics reopened in mid-May, during phase two of B.C.’s restart plan. Weeks later, dentists are still working to clear up the backlog left behind.
“I would say we’re months behind in our hygiene and we’re struggling to try and catch up,” said Dr. Ross Crapo, a dentist in Saanich.
Crapo and his team are working as hard as they can to deal with it.
“We have asked our hygienists to work an extra day a week,” he said. “We have extended our hours. I’m starting earlier and finishing later to accommodate those real needs.”
Dental disease is the most ubiquitous or the most common disease in the world, Crapo added.
“Everyone is affected by dental health issues more regularly and more often than any other thing, including the common cold,” he said.
Dr. Peter Lobb’s clinic, on McKenzie Avenue, is facing the same kind of backlog.
“Just as the health minister shut down elective care in hospital and there’s a backlog for people who are waiting for hip and other sorts of surgeries, same thing happened [here],” he said, adding that it’s not “insurmountable” and isn’t to the same extent.
The backlog is due in part to some dentists opting to stay closed, along with the extra pandemic measures that are in place.
“We can’t see as many people during the day as we space [appointments out],” Lobb explained. “We try not to have congestion in the reception area and respect people coming and going…. our overall volume is down.”
This backlog, however, has caused some small dental issues to turn into bigger ones. It’s something Crapo and Lobb have both seen happen as a result of the pandemic closure.
Someone who had a large cavity, for example, may have just started off with minor pain and sensitivity in the tooth.
“Then when we actually came to treat them in a few months, pulp had become involved, so they maybe needed a root canal treatment or it got to the point where they didn’t want that and they wanted the tooth extracted,” Lobb explained.
Crapo said he had a patient who was ready for some bridgework to replace missing teeth. A temporary structure was in place but the pandemic forced the clinic closed before the permanent structures could be put in. When the patient returned once they reopened, Crap said the temporary structure had gotten loose and decay had set in.
“We ended up having to redo the bridgework because of the decay,” he explained. “That was a challenge. It was a surprise that something would happen so fast in such a short period of time.”
The offices were closed for most services during phase one, but patients with dental emergencies were still able to come in for treatment if needed. Lobb said this helped address the more serious problems.
However, it’s not just a pandemic issue, Lobb added. He said he sees patients like these all the time, with dental issues that could have been avoided if the patient had just come in earlier.
“Let’s start with a phone call,” he said. “Phone, introduce yourself, let us know what your problem is.”
Those that may be hesitant or nervous to come in to see the dentist because of COVID-19, Lobb added, should know they are taking extra precautions to make it as safe as they can.
This includes health questionnaires, temperature checks, air filters, personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves, increased cleaning and disinfection, mouth rinse, and physical distancing.