With conflicting guidelines for pandemic, local dentists weigh whether to stay open

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KANSAS CITY, Mo (WDAF) – Things are changing quickly in the coronavirus crisis, and that applies to the dental profession, too.

Dentists who first thought they could only perform emergency procedures recently found out they can open their practices for all services. But is that a good idea?

A post shared on a dental professionals group Facebook page has caused confusion and concern among some local dentists. The author asked Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas for clarification about what dentists can and can not do during the stay-at-home order, which covers both sides of the state line.

Lucas responded, “Our order, even at present, does not limit your ability to perform non-emergency procedures and check-ups.”

That’s in direct conflict with what the American Dental Association is recommending.

“The ADA recommended that dental practices and dental providers discontinue non-urgent dental treatment or to essentially offer emergency services only,” said Dr. Emily Mattingly, who’s on the ADA’s New Dentist Committee and owns a dental practice in Missouri. “All of this is to help stop the spread of COVID-19. That’s what we all want.”

Mattingly hasn’t opened her dental office for four weeks, but other dentists are still practicing.

“Obviously we are in uncharted territory, and we’re getting mixed guidance via governmental agencies as far as what we can and can’t do,” said Dr. Matt Niewald, owner of Lakewood Dental.

Niewald is only seeing emergency patients and is putting plans in place to reopen his business according to the Jackson County stay-at-home order’s expiration on May 15.

He’s concerned that the difficulty in getting personal protective equipment alone is reason not to see patients for non-emergency procedures.

“We deal with a lot of aerosols that could be coming through the air,” Niewald said. “The fact that we have a lot of asymptomatic carriers out there, there’s really no valid way to screen patients as they come in as to whether or not they are carriers of the virus. So that makes it even more problematic as far as the spread of a communicable disease.”

The Missouri Dental Board weighed in about the conflict, saying: “The Board would like to state that it strongly encourages licensees to adhere to all ADA and CDC recommendations for the treatment of dental patients during this pandemic and to carefully monitor those recommendations as they are changing frequently. The Board would not really have a way to enforce a recommendation from the ADA because it is a recommendation and not a law or regulation.”

The Kansas Health Department goes one step further. In a letter dated April 14, KDHE’s Bureau of Oral Health recommended to suspend elective dental treatments until further notice.

Since these are just recommendations, there is not enforcement. On its website, the Kansas Dental Board said: “The Kansas Dental Board is not authorized, statutorily or otherwise, to close dental offices or suspend certain dental procedures in Kansas due to COVID-19.  These decisions may only be ordered through the exercise of chief executive or emergency powers, including, but not limited to, those powers held by the President of the United States or Governor. Each licensee should remain informed of current developments.”

So in the meantime, local dentists are just doing what they feel is best for themselves, their patients and the community.

“We are all trying to do the best we can 100%, and I think it’s OK that we don’t know all the answers as long as we are continuing to strive to get those answers, too,” Mattingly said.

Lucas’ office addressed the conflict by saying, “While dentist offices are essential health care businesses under Mayor Lucas’s stay-at-home order, the order does not preclude any essential business from limiting their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just as many hospitals have stopped performing elective surgeries during this time, dentists may and should limit their services in accordance with professional recommendations.”

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