By Chelsea Janes
May 29, 2020 at 7:00 a.m. CDT
Zachary Kouri considers himself lucky.
Unlike some dentists, he will be able to reopen his practice in Des Moines after the novel coronavirus forced him to limit his work to emergency cases for two months. But reopening meant a week or so of 15-hour days, unplanned construction on his office, time spent hunting for affordable personal protective equipment and the painstaking work of rewriting office safety protocols.
As states begin allowing dentists to resume treating patients, they navigate a complicated logistical reality: In conducting their duties in and around patients’ mouths, they land especially close to the respiratory system.
But unlike doctors treating covid-19 patients, dentists are not considered frontline workers and until recent days had largely been left out of the nationwide triaging of personal protective equipment, according to interviews with leaders of several state dental associations.
They are retooling their offices to meet new and stricter health and safety guidelines. And because many of their dental tools can cause wide sprays of respiratory particles, many dentists are trying to determine the services they will be able to provide when patients return for more routine care.
Kouri, a director of the Iowa Dental Association, was able to shoulder the cost of retrofitting his office. The building that houses his practice is paid off. He doesn’t have fresh student loans to worry about. So far, he has been able to afford the investment required to outfit his practice with the extensive PPE he never needed before covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He knows other dentists, particularly younger dentists still paying off loans or renting out space, are facing far steeper climbs to recovery.