Dentistry and COVID-19: Suited Up and Ready for the Next Patient

Dr. Bruce Pynn (left) and Dr. Yasser Labib, Anesthesiologist.
Dr. Bruce Pynn (left) and Dr. Yasser Labib, Anesthesiologist, preparing to perform a dental procedure in an operating room at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

(Originally published in the May 2021 edition of The Walleye Magazine)

Visiting the dentist might not be at the top of one’s to-do list, especially during a pandemic, but oral health is an integral part of overall health and well-being. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Department of Dentistry wants to assure patients that infection prevention and control has always been a priority in dental practices and protective measures have been enhanced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many people may have delayed their oral care and treatment due to the pandemic,” explains Dr. Bruce Pynn, Chief of Dentistry & Oral Maxillofacial Surgery at our Hospital, and Associate Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. “We want our patients to be confident in the safety of our Hospital and dental office settings. Our staff are following safety and screening protocols and dentists, along with their teams, have received their COVID-19 vaccines.”

While there is no physical dental clinic within our Hospital, the Department of Dentistry consists of 10 dentists and 7 dental specialists including 3 oral and maxillofacial surgeons, 2 pediatric dentists, 1 periodontist and 1 dental anesthetist. The department provides specialized dentistry services for those who require dental procedures that can only take place in an acute care setting. Most consultations, which involve a medical history, x-rays, and clinical examination, take place offsite at the dentist or specialist’s office.

As one of the busiest services in the province, the oral and maxillofacial surgeons at our Hospital treat almost all facial traumas in the region, ranging from the Manitoba border to as far east as Timmins, with between 2-10 cases arising each week. In addition, the department has operating room (OR) time each week where they continue to treat extensive pediatric cases to replace missing or damaged teeth, cancer and medically compromised patients, and other urgent cases. Other health care professionals in our Hospital also call on the department frequently for consultations.

“Under normal circumstances, dentists and dental specialists treat approximately 800 patients per year,” explains Pynn. “During the pandemic, that number has been cut in half due to reduced available OR time and patient anxiety about receiving treatment at the hospital.”

Dental procedures carried out in our Hospital are done in specialized negative pressure suites within the OR department. These suites ensure that any airborne contaminants are contained within the room and prevent spread to other areas. The department also has specialized powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) suits (pictured) to wear in the OR if treating a suspected COVID-19 positive or confirmed COVID-19 positive case. The PAPR is a type of respirator used to safeguard workers against contaminated air by using a fan to deliver filtered air into the hood-like headwear. The PAPR is especially important when using a dental drill and performing aerosol-generating procedures.

With added COVID-19 guidelines, dentists are doing everything they can to put additional levels of protection in place to create the safest environment for their patients and the dental team throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Appointments for these specialized dentistry services can be booked by the staff dentist, pediatric dentist, periodontist, or oral surgeon through their respective offices. If there is a dental emergency, you can contact the Nurses’ Registry at (807) 623-7451 to reach the dentist on-call. If the situation is urgent, please visit the Emergency Department at our Hospital.