Protecting people’s smiles amid the COVID-19 pandemic
MANILA, Philippines—Like doctors, nurses and health facility workers, dentists are also among the medical professionals who are at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 and risk their safety and infection by SARS Cov2, the virus that causes the disease.
One of them is Dr. Analyn Simon, who is fully aware that her profession as a dentist puts her and her colleagues at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Sa totoo lang, in all professions, isa kami sa mga pinaka at risk…kasi we’re dealing with oral cavity and saliva and blood and all,” Simon, who currently owns and operates two dental clinics in Quezon City, told INQUIRER.net.
(To tell you the truth, in all professions, we are among those who are really at risk because we are dealing with oral cavity and saliva and blood and all.)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are three ways through which COVID-19 is transmitted in an oral health setting. These were through:
- direct transmission through inhalation of droplets generated through coughing or sneezing;
- direct transmission via exposure of mucous membrane such as eye, nasal or oral mucosa to infectious droplets; and
- indirect transmission via contaminated surfaces.
Aside from that, dental professionals face a heightened risk of being infected and transmitting the virus through aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs), which are widely performed in the practice of dentistry.
AGPs, according to a definition by WHO, are medical, dental, and patient care procedure that results in the production of airborne particles or aerosols, which can remain suspended in the air, travel over a distance, and may cause infection if they carried viruses and are inhaled.
The Philippine Dental Association (PDA) listed examples of AGPs, including “ultrasonic scaling, use of high-speed handpiece, 3-way syringe and high or low volume saliva evacuation (high volume evacuator, saliva ejectors, surgical suctions).”
“These risks are unique to dental interventions, where aerosol generation, handling of sharps, and proximity of the provider to the patient’s oropharyngeal region is unavoidable,” the PDA said in its interim guidelines issued last year.
Another challenge cited by Simon was that there might be patients who could be asymptomatic, and dentists might not know about it.
“Pero life must go on para sa amin kasi we have to serve the patients pa rin,” she said.
(But life must go on for us because we still have to serve the patients.)
The dentist said since she reopened her clinics last year, she and her staff have been implementing strict health and safety measures to prevent the spread of disease among her employees and patients.
Her clinics are fully booked most of the time, so she ensures that staff and patients heed limits on number of people allowed in the clinics per day and limits on the time patients can stay.
Based on recent guidelines by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), dental clinics in Metro Manila will have to work with skeletal staffing under Alert Level 2.
“Dental, rehabilitation, optometry, and other medical clinics for the treatment of illness or injuries. Provided, that there is strict observance of infection prevention and control protocols,” the IATF stated.
“Provided, further, that dental procedures shall be limited to emergency cases only and that the wearing of full Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) by dentists and attendants shall be mandatory,” it added.
In Simon’s clinics, patients must first book an appointment and undergo screening to ensure that the patient is COVID-free and is safe to visit and be provided with necessary dental care services.
This safety measure was in line with the guidelines issued by WHO last year for essential oral health services, which include:
- screening and triaging of patients
- infection and control pre-treatment in oral health care settings
- ventilation in oral health care settings
- protection of oral health care personnel and patients during treatment
- cleaning and disinfection procedures in between patients
Simon also made sure that her clinics were well-equipped before reopening last year. She said she has bought all the necessary equipment to keep everyone in her clinics safe and protected against COVID-19.
Our lineup of new clinical equipments for anti-CoVid19 virus is now complete. We aim for a safer, secure and with the…
“May equipment na ginagamit to prevent yung mga aerosols inside the clinic. Like yung mga machines namin, purifier, and Hi-Vac, and marami pa na nabili rin [namin],” she said.
(We have equipment that can help prevent aerosols inside the clinic. These are our machines such as air purifiers, HVAC air purifiers, and many more that we have already bought.)
“Nag dagdag kami ng mga sterilization machine, fogging machine, lahat, anything na pwede namin bilhin pinrovide talaga namin para sa safety namin and the patients also,” she added.
(We also added more sterilization machines, fogging machines…anything that we can buy and provide for our safety and the patients’ safety.)
Learning and letting go
Despite the challenges thrown at her by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Simon said she was able to learn new things as she continued to pursue expanding her knowledge to provide better care for more patients.
According to her, she had a very memorable experience this year, which pushed her to take the next steps in improving her skills as a dental professional.
“In all of my 17 years in practice, first time ko mag handle ng implant [this year]. So parang naging pioneering, parang nagkakaroon tuloy ako ng eagerness to start another specialty,” said Simon.
(In all of my 17 years in practice, it was my first time handling a dental implant case. So it felt like there was a pioneering, and I had the eagerness to start another specialty.)
“Maybe I’m aiming for that in the coming year,” she added.
She also said she has already enrolled herself in a one-year degree program and is looking forward to entering post-grad studies next year.
These steps, Simon said, will help her provide oral care services to more patients in the future.
As the popular saying goes, “when you let go, you create space for better things to enter your life.”
While she continues to pursue and learn more, there are some things that Simon said she wants to clear out in her life before the year ends.
“Hindi mo maiiwasan na may mga toxic na tao, diba? So parang something that [will] give you negativity and all, parang gusto mo silang i-detach [from yourself],” she shared.
(You cannot avoid the fact that there are toxic people, right? Some things that [will] give you negativity and all, you want to detach yourself from those.)
“You want to detach [yourself] from them kasi [those things] will cause you to bother and be worried. Gusto ko silang tanggalin in my circle,” she continued.
(You want to detach yourself because those things or people will cause to feel bothered and be worried. I want to remove those in my circle.)
Time to unwind, reconnect
If there is something that Simon has learned this year, it was to prioritize family above all else.
“This year is more on prioritizing things. [S]iguro learning to focus, syempre on your family, kasi family is really important. Habang buo kayo, habang kumpleto pa kayo, make out of each and every moment with your family,” she said.
(This year is more on prioritizing things. Maybe also learning to focus on your family, because family is really important. While you are complete, make out of each and every moment with your family.)
After months of seeing patients amid the pandemic, Simon said she has decided to take a long break for the holidays, which she will spend with her family.
“I opted to have a rest kasi feeling ko parang deserve ko na yun madami na aksi akong nagawa so sabi ko itong year na to medyo naging mahaba yung break ko kasi parang dati kasi mostly [Christmas] Eve lang. Ngayon talaga as in straight five days wala,” she explained.
(I opted to rest because I feel like I deserve that since I have already done a lot, so I told myself that I would have a more extended break this year. Before, my breaks were only on Christmas Eve or December 24 and 25. Now, my clinics are closed for five straight days.)
“For us, Christmas is really spending time with the family,” she said.
“Last year naging mahirap for us to celebrate kasi naging secluded lang each and everyone, naka-confine lang kami sa house. So we do not have the chance to celebrate with other family members. But this time, we are trying to celebrate with [our] extended family,” she added.
(It was hard for us to celebrate Christmas last year because we all became secluded and confined inside the house. We do not have the chance to celebrate with other family members. But this time, we are trying to celebrate with our extended family.)
Simon likewise said she is thankful that her family was able to survive the pandemic and all the problems that were besetting the country in the last two years.
Better days ahead
Like most people, Simon hopes that the country’s COVID situation would further improve next year.
“For this Christmas, I just wish everybody’s safety, good health, [and for] 2022 [to be] lighter. Of course, problems would still be there, pero (I hope), kasi madami na [tayong] pinagdaan (because we have already been through a lot) for two straight years,” she said.
According to Simon, 2021 was an excellent year for her, especially for her career—and she wishes for the same thing to happen next year, especially to those whose jobs were affected by the pandemic.
“I’m really mindful sa mga businesses na nagko-close. Kahit papaano nandoon din yung aking heart sa kanila,” she said.
(I’m really mindful of the businesses that have closed due to the pandemic. My heart goes out to them.)
Last year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said at least 90,000 businesses, mostly micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs), remained closed until September 2020.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent—around 4.25 million jobless Filipinos—just this September.
The rate was the highest since January this year.
Reasons to smile
Despite the challenges everyone faced this year, Simon said she believes that there are still many reasons to smile every day.
“This (pandemic) too shall pass, and life has so much to offer,” she said.
“If there is life, there is hope.”
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