Some dentists fear returning to work when COVID-19 lockdown eases

Angel Movido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2020 01:33 PM | Updated as of May 03 2020 07:56 AM

Mark Villalobos, a dentist in Batangas Province, responds to a dental emergency involving a minor. The father, a soldier, assists to calm down his son.

MANILA - The Philippine Dental Association (PDA) said Thursday some of its members feared returning to work even as quarantine rules in some parts of the country are eased by May, as their jobs entail close contact with patients. 

Dental clinics will be allowed to reopen when COVID-19 low-risk areas are placed under general community quarantine starting Friday, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday. 

“Mas malaki ang tiyansa na mahawa ang assistant, pasyente, sapagkat deretso ang aming paggamot sa bibig ng pasyente. Maaring tumalsik ang laway, maaring mapunta sa gamit ng dentista, na pwedeng magkaroon ng cross-contamination,” said PDA President Dr. Steve Almonte. 

(There is a bigger chance that the assistant, patient may catch the virus because we are directly in contact with a patient's mouth. Saliva can splatter onto the tools of a dentist, which may cause cross-contamination.) 

The highly-contagious virus is known to be transmitted by droplets from an infected person, such as in saliva, a cough or sneeze. 

Under the code of ethics, medical and dental professionals should serve all patients. Some social media users have accused some dentists of turning away patients.

Many dentists lack safety gear while their clinics are not equipped to filter out respiratory droplets through which COVID-19 spreads, Almonte told ABS-CBN News. 
 
The government, he said, should provide better facilities first, especially for dentists in public clinics.

SOME DENTISTS RETHINK CAREER 

Some dentists like Mark Villalobos in Lipa City, Batangas are considering suspending his practice and finding an alternative means of livelihood, he said. 

Villalobos said he treated last week a 20-month old patient with a tooth fracture, despite his fear of the novel coronavirus. He said the personal protective equipment he used came from the supply he gathered before the lockdown. 

“Sa hamon ni COVID, nakakapag-isip din kami minsan na malihis muna namin ang pagdedentista at maghanap kami ng ibang pagkakakitaan,” he said. 

(Due to the COVID challenge, some of us are thinking of straying away from dentistry for now and finding an alternative income source.) 

“Sana bigyan nila ng proteksyon ang mga dentista, kung kinakailangan namin magbukas, safety at security. Huwag madaliin ang pagbukas ng klinika,” Villalobos urged the government.

(I hope the government gives us protection, safety and security if we need to open. They should not rush the opening of clinics.)

Sharelove Bautista, the mother of Villalobos' 20-month old patient, said it took her about a month to get a dental appointment and that they traveled for hours to get to the clinic. 

“Sumusuka na siya, 'yung lagnat niya di nawawala, tapos 'yung labi niya itim na, hindi na namin alam gagawin namin, buti hindi naimpeksyon, sabi may nana na raw. Pasalamat po talaga ako na may dentista,” she shared. 

(My baby was already vomiting, his fever was not dropping, his lips were already turning dark. We didn't know what to do. It's fortunate it wasn't an infection, just pus. I'm thankful there was a dentist.) 

"Dapat binibigyan sila ng pagkakataon na masuportahan ang pangangailan nila, kasi kailangan din naman po sila," she said. 

(Their (dentist's) needs should be given support because they are essential.) 

Only about 50 dentists nationwide have been monitored by the PDA to respond to patients with emergency cases during the lockdown, which stopped the work of some 15,000 members of the group, said its president.

“Alam po namin ang nararamdaman ng bawat Pilipino na may problema sa sakit sa ngipin. Marami na ang hindi handa sa pagbabalik. Importante [mu]na 'yung tamang kagamitan, hindi na puwede basta may silya pwede na,” said Almonte. 

(We know the feeling of every Filipino suffering from tooth problems. Many dentists are not ready to back to work. It's important to provide proper equipment first, having just a chair won't cut it.) 

The PDA is monitoring 6 dentists for possible COVID-19 infection, he said.