Local dentist takes proactive steps to prevent COVID-19 spread

Local Coronavirus Coverage

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – A Bristol, Virginia dentist is taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in his community.

Doctor William Hartel has implemented a system of limitations in his office which starts before you even walk through the doors.

Before visiting Just For Grins dentist office, Hartel asks that if patients feel ill, they don’t come to the office so as to limit community spread. As soon as you walk through the doors, a cross-contamination coordinator will take your temperate, ask you to sanitize your hands and show you how to properly indicate your medical issues to the dentist.

“I have a cross-contamination coordinator and that’s kind of her job imagine her like the maitre d’ of a restaurant,” he said.

“So she’s actually in the waiting room with her can of wipes so when people come in the door, she takes their temperature, and you know, introduces herself, takes the temperature, tells them what we expect: please don’t put your fingers in your mouth, we have pointers if you need to point at something we could use that back here, if you just tell us what the problem is and don’t remove your denture at the front desk and oh, by the way, here’s the sanitizer, before we go back, would you mind?” Hartel explained.

He added that most people don’t mind using either hand or mouth sanitizer before entering the examination area.

“I was ahead and I want to stay ahead when it comes to cross-contamination, I know a lot of dentists don’t take it as seriously as I do, if fact when I started this procedure of taking temperatures on patients, some of my colleagues said ‘that’s stupid, how do you charge for that?’ charge for it? It doesn’t cost anything,” Hartel said.

READ ALSO: Virginia Dental Association recommends dental offices postpone non-emergency care

Hartel has been ahead of the curve of dental hygiene since the day he entered dental school.

“My dental school was in St. Louis and my first patient had something that looked suspicious, we just had a lecture on it, and it’s an infectious disease and I asked for gloves and they said you can’t have a pair of gloves to see a patient, nobody has, nobody wears gloves, you can’t do good dentistry in gloves, and I was kind of ridiculed because I bought my own gloves, and that was latex gloves, and they were fairly expensive and I was right, the patient did have AIDS. For the next two years of dental school, I was kind of ridiculed by the staff and the Dean actually called me into the office, they suspended me for this because it made other patients feel that their doctors weren’t clean, and he said ‘if you find putting your hands in someone’s mouth so disgusting that you want to wear glove, what in God’s name are you doing in dental school?’ Well, I’ve worked in an operating room before and they do pretty well with gloves there. I don’t really want to touch someone’s mouth. So, I’ve worn gloves since the day I started dentistry.”

Dr. William Hartell

He said that with this virus being so new, with so little information available to medical professionals, he is taking every precaution he can think of.

READ ALSO: Facts not Fear: Coronavirus officially nationwide, disrupting daily norms

“I am concerned when there is community spread of the virus that we may end up closing, but I have a staff with a Plan B, so if we have to go to every other day, for example, so no-one will be here for long periods of time, I hope it doesn’t happen but I expect that it will,” Hartel said.

The American Dental Association has recommended treatment guidelines for dentists, but Hartel says he doesn’t think those guidelines are good enough.

“I just think that they need to be a little more aggressive, they say don’t treat patients who are obviously ill, that’s why we take your temperature,” he explained. “Sometimes people come to visit because maybe they’ve waited three months but if you have a fever when you walk in the door, you’re going to be escorted back out of the door until we can figure out what to do.”

He added that his staff does not use the electric drill during procedures anymore since it causes saliva to spread in an aerosol mist, and since the COVID-19 virus spreads through the spittle water droplets, he says those techniques of dentistry work will put himself and his staff at risk.

READ ALSO: TDH: 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19, no additional cases reported in our region

Hartel added that he and his staff change their clothes after each shift and those clothes are washed on-site so as to limit the spread of the virus particles that may have latched onto the fabric fibers.

He explained that not everybody needs to go to the dentist during the coronavirus pandemic and to limit the possibility of community spread reaching our region, he says that only if people feel heat-sensitivity or sudden intense tooth pain should they seek dental help. He added that in those cases, patients should not seek medical help from hospitals, but dentists. He also said that cold-sensitivity is not serious enough to seek dental care.

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