What Do Dental Hygienists Do During a Global Pandemic?

Let’s change the narrative here a bit.  I think we all need this reminder.  Registered Dental Hygienists are the infection control experts of the dental team.  So many private practices have us named as the official OSHA coordinator.  We are highly trained specialists of prevention.  We offer a detail oriented and thorough analysis to the hands-on work we do and the intellectual input we give to our teams.  We educate our patients and our coworkers on the importance of compliance for our safety, the safety of our patients, and by default, our communities.


It was March 16th when my office began taking temperatures on patients and the team.  We stopped using hand-pieces and moved to emergency treatment only.  We were paying close attention to the evolving situation and acted quickly.  As a safety net clinic, we knew we would be keeping our doors open for emergency patients.  So many health centers and universities across the nation did just that.  With very little data on transmission in the dental setting, providers used their best judgment to offer relief to folks with pain and infection.  We learned a new telehealth delivery option in a week.  We stayed connected to our local, state, and national colleagues to remain informed and act in the best interest of everyone involved.  When I think about all the lives safety net dentists saved by keeping patients out of the ER the last 2 months, I am deeply moved.  You all are the real MVPs.  Dentists and their teams are on the front lines here.  While many private offices closed due to unknown factors, the safety net reported for duty.  We have been here all along because offering access to care is what we do.  It is our mission.  When the financial burden became clear because of the decline in volume, our two dentists offered to work one day a week with no pay.  They literally volunteered their time and risked their lives.  Heroic.


The hygienists I know are contributing to solutions.  They are writing protocols and planning staff training.  They are contributing to guidelines and continuing education at the state and national level.  They are advising OSHA and the CDC.  I spoke to an entrepreneurial hygienist yesterday who is creating an innovative product for aerosol management for other hygienists that will be released in 4 weeks.  We are rising to the challenge, contributing our expertise, and creating innovation.  During the pandemic, safety net hygienists have been re-assigned to assist on emergency procedures, support their medical team with testing, do contract tracing for health departments, and procure much needed PPE.  Hygiene educators stepped up to change their vastly clinical training to didactic and virtual course work.  Hygienists who work for universities contributed to protocols and oversight and research projects.  We are writing grant proposals to respond to any risk in the clinical setting.  We are cautious and our concerns are valid, but let me be clear, we never stopped being hygienists.  We never will.  We are vital members of the healthcare team, and we do vastly more than clean teeth.

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