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Oral Health Services in the Covid -19 era

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic does not stop people from seeking medical attention for various ailments. Seeking dental care is no exception as people still want to have their oral health attended to.

Ministry of Health and Child Care, Acting Director Oral Health, Dr. Hardwicke Matikiti explains that there is little to no social distancing when administering oral health to patients hence the risk of exposure is high.

“In our oral health field, we work intimately with patients in the mouth and nose area, and people breathe onto our faces. During dental procedures, some of the instruments that we use like the handpiece, the scaler, and the drill are capable of producing aerosols which are usually a mix of air and water derived from these devices and the patient's saliva thereby increasing our exposure to the virus,” said Dr. Matikiti.

Acting Director Oral Health spoke on the need to have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when carrying out dental procedures given the higher level of discharged aerosols.

“As a result of that, the level of PPE required to attend to dental patients then becomes mandatory. There is a requirement for us to wear an N95 mask and a visor. The N95 mask is to stop us from inhaling any aerosols, whilst the visor protects us from having other generated components like blood splashing onto the body so you need to protect yourself as the dentist and the team as well,” said Dr. Matikiti.

Dr. Matikiti also noted that during these oral procedures, a lot of microparticles are generated which pose a danger to the health personnel working on the patient and at the same time protecting the patient from the health worker.

"Those procedures to us are like filing wood, when you are filing wood, there are small particles, but the particles that we are talking about in oral health are micro, you don’t see them, but they are generated and they actually come to you. So what we are talking about is protecting the practitioner from the patient assuming that the patient is Covid-19 positive and also protecting the patient from the practitioner assuming the practitioner has Covid-19,” said Dr. Matikiti.

Social media is awash with information about patients being requested to produce Covid-19 certificates before being attended to at health care institutions. Dr. Matikiti pointed out that before seeing patients, normal screening is done as a precautionary measure.

“So the current position when we see patients, we do normal screening looking at the temperature and checking if one has a respiratory infection. Previously the emphasis was on whether you had travelled to hotspot areas like Harare and Bulawayo where there are high levels of local transmission. You now know that anyone is potentially a Covid-19 patient, so we are not working on Covid-19 certificates because the recommendations for WHO have been that such certificates do not guarantee safety,” said the Acting Director for Oral Health.

Dr. Matikiti went on to recommend that aerosol producing procedures should not be done unless they are life-saving like intubation. He also reiterated the need for people to eat healthily and avoid tobacco and alcohol use, promote low sugar diets, and adhere to strict personal oral hygiene tendencies.

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic does not stop people from seeking medical attention for various ailments. Seeking dental care is no exception as people still want to have their oral health attended to.

 

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