A Safe Return to Dental Care

COVID-19 PPEDental patients arriving for regular appointments or emergency care in UF College of Dentistry (UFCD) centers will notice some important changes that ensure comfortable care delivered in a safe environment.

Visible changes include plexiglass shields at front desks, HEPA air filters in dental suites and high-grade plastic barriers that seal off areas where patients are receiving care – protecting everyone in the area. When necessary, providers are now wearing face shields and other higher-level personal protective gear, or PPE including N95 masks. Everyone entering UF dental facilities – patients, visitors, faculty, staff, dental students and residents – will have temperatures taken and recorded daily, whether they work in a clinical, research or office setting, per American Dental Association recommendations.

UFCD Dean Isabel Garcia, who came to UF in 2015 from a long career in dental public health, has led the college through this pandemic with a focus on carefully balancing risk with UFCD’s obligations to serve the public, ensure safety for everyone in the dental care setting, and to support our teaching missions across all programs.

The UF College of Dentistry continued to provide emergency-only care during Florida’s months-long shutdown, following orders from Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. Since early April, all college facilities including Gainesville and clinical programs in Naples, Seminole, Hialeah and Wildlight have required the use of facemasks for everyone: employees, students, patients and visitors.

Photo of Isabel Garcia
A. Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H.

Garcia said that as the world and the nation learned more about the COVID-19 virus, it seemed that almost daily, new information drove changes to personal protection and to recommendations for environmental changes in all public spaces – from grocery stores to surgical suites.

“Nowhere is this more evident than in the oral health profession where some procedures performed by dentists and hygienists can create an aerosol that is capable of carrying the virus,” she said. “Minimizing aerosols has been a top priority for the dental profession and fortunately there are many steps that have been proven effective in reducing the risks.”

During March, April and the beginning of May, the college took steps to minimize transmission of the virus in the short-term, and began making plans for permanent changes to the environment including installing engineering controls such as physical barriers, HEPA filters, and increasing ventilation in clinical areas and more.

These changes took place while the college continued to provide emergency care for current patients and for others in the community, sometimes requiring constant adaptations as recommendations from state and national dental and healthcare authorities emerged. When Florida announced and began the gradual reopening of elective medical and dental care in May, the college took a slow, phased approach to clinical re-opening, opening more dental centers after returning personnel were completed training on new safety procedures and equipment, and clinical spaces were fully-outfitted with the proper equipment.

Dental Provider face shieldDental practices have long been at the forefront of infection control. Following procedures, all surfaces in the operatories are cleaned and disinfected and all equipment is sterilized. These measures, now combined with additional protections, will help continue to assure that oral health procedures are as safe as possible.

“People often arrive at the dentist with a certain level of anxiety, and providing comfortable, stress-free care is of paramount importance to us,” Garcia said. “We are really pleased at the positive feedback we’ve received from recent patients about the changes they’re seeing.”

UFCD continues to follow emerging science and data surrounding the COVID-19 virus and will continue to add protections and adjust practices that follow guidance from national and state dental and medical experts.

For more UF College of Dentistry information about returning for dental care, please visit our Return to Care Patient Information page.