personal protective equipment

Dental Hygienists Dealing With Shortage of PPE, Unsure Where to Get Next Supply

Personal protective equipment has been elusive amid the global coronavirus pandemic and has affected health care workers from every field

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Dental hygienists are facing a difficult dilemma -- they’re ready to get back to work but many say the proper personal protective equipment just isn’t available. They say it’s hard to return to role that requires such close contact to the mouth given the mounting concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Hygienists who spoke with NBC 7 said getting access to the supplies that's made it difficult. Employees at Dr. Stanley Nakamura's office showed us just how low their supplies are running.

One hygienist did the math on gowns alone and said the two packs they have will only last them a few procedures between divvying up the gowns between the dentist and the team who assists during a patient’s visit. They constantly recycle through their protective wear with each and every patient they see.

While PPE continues to be a widespread problem for health care providers, Linh Nakamura, who works as a hygienist at the office, said using what PPE they do have over a longer span of time isn’t an option either.

“If we wear the same ones, technically aerosols can get on these gowns and if we use it at the next patient, we can spread it to the next patients,” Nakamura said.

Attempting to access the elusive PPE is only one side of the problem. Another hygienist said she feels stuck on what to do when it comes to work.

“Right now, I am personally being faced with the choice of going back to work and risking my safety or not going back to work and losing my job,” the hygienist, who asked NBC 7 to conceal her identity, said.

The San Diego County Dental Society (SDCDS) said once they realized dentists in the county were reaching points where they really needed to get access to gear, they reached out to the county. They said they were given 4000 masks and a mix of other PPE to hand off to dentists in the San Diego area.

However, that number isn’t very big in the grander scheme of things. SDCDS President Brian Fabb said each dentist was only able to get a hold of 10 face masks, 5 face shields, and other PPE items. That amount is not enough to cover beyond a few procedures.

“It isn’t going to be weeks’ supply, it’s going to be minimal supply just to kind of get them up and running,” Fabb said. “It’s nowhere near where we need it to be, but it’s a start.”

He said they will continue to hand out supplies to dental offices as they trickle in, but also said that at this point, it’s hard to estimate if the PPE allotments to his society will be a regular occurrence.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher also acknowledged the PPE strains facing dentists during a Facebook Live on his public page, where he said offices should not be open if they don’t have the correct PPE to sustain the type of work they’ve been now authorized to do.

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