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Here’s a taste of what you’ll experience the next time you’re at the dentist

Published Aug 2nd, 2020 9:31PM EDT
Coronavirus update
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire via AP Images

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  • The latest coronavirus update from White House health advisor Dr. Deborah Birx is that the US is entering a new phase of the pandemic, one that sees the virus now “extraordinarily widespread” around the country.
  • What that means is we’re going to increasingly see precautions and protective measures all around us as people try to resume normal activities they feel comfortable with.
  • Here’s what I experienced on a recent trip to the dentist, for the first time since the pandemic began.

The question of whether to reopen schools this fall, if such a thing can even be done safely at all, is nowhere close to being settled right now, with experts continuing to offer conflicting guidance around the country as the US remains in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, there’s something deeper that’s inherent in these contentious debates about the fate of the school year, and it’s much larger than the idea of classrooms and bringing kids back into educational institutions. What we’re really grappling with here is the much more fundamental challenge of how to increasingly go about our lives with the coronavirus still raging around us — still infecting new people, still causing people to be hospitalized, and, sadly, still killing so many Americans. Because in the absence of a vaccine, which experts like White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci assure us is still months away at the earliest, each of us has to figure out what degree of risk in our personal lives we’re willing to tolerate, whether you’re ok with eating at restaurants, shopping inside a grocery store, getting on a plane, sending your kid back to school … or, in my case, visiting my dentist’s office, which I did for the first time last week since the pandemic began.

We can’t exactly stay tucked inside hermetically sealed bubbles until a vaccine finally materializes, which is the reason for so many new rules you see everywhere you go — including the requirement that people wear face masks. For me, I decided the risk of visiting a health care provider (one that I know and trust and whose commitment to quality care and the patient experience I’ve seen first-hand) was an acceptable risk to take at this point of the pandemic. Here are some of the things I encountered, which may be of interest to any of you contemplating a similar visit in the near future.

For the record, this is not me advocating that all of you immediately book a dentist visit or doctor’s visit of some kind, that there is no risk at all, and everything will be fine. This is merely a record of what I saw, why I did so, and why I felt safe and taken care of by the dentist I’ve been going to for years now.

I should add, I didn’t “roll the dice” either, in terms of betting that the experience would be safe. I checked with my dentist beforehand, and among the things I was told and saw:

  • Patients weren’t allowed to arrive more than five minutes before their appointment time. That was to ensure that people weren’t congregating in the waiting area, where it’s hard to socially distance.
  • All employees and patients got their temperature checked almost as soon as they stepped inside.
  • Other protections included two high-efficiency HEPA H13 filters in the office.
  • A fogger was used several times a day to clean the rooms (which, I have to say, literally smelled clean as soon as I entered).
  • All employees wore a Type 3 face mask, while hygienists wore N-95 face masks with face shields as well as disposable glasses — and gloves, of course.
  • Another thing I noticed and appreciated was that during my actual cleaning itself, a machine behind my head was running the whole time and was meant to be pulling aerosolized particles away from me and the hygenist.

All in all, I was pleased with the extremes to which my dentist here in Memphis went to ensure everyone’s safety. Can publicly-funded and perennially cash-strapped public school systems attempt the same? It’s a totally different thing, of course, but that remains to be seen. Dr. Deborah Birx, the physician who leads the White House coronavirus response, said over the weekend that the US is entering a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic, which she now says is “extraordinarily widespread” across the country. Which means, among other things, you should increasingly expect to see extreme precautions like these the more places you go, as we all try to go about our lives as best we can and recapture some semblance of a normal existence.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.