ABC7 News reporter Kate Larsen goes to the dentist; here's what's changed amid pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Health during the coronavirus pandemic is one of ABC7's focuses, as we work to tell stories that build a better Bay Area.

Many Bay Area dental offices have begun to reopen beyond emergency care.

ABC7 News reporter, Kate Larsen, went to see her dentist today and explained what has changed as a result of the pandemic.

RELATED: Reopening California: Bay Area dental hygienists concerned about returning to work

"I made this dentist appointment 6 months ago when I was here for my last cleaning," she said. "I was very pleased to find out that I could still keep it. I was asked to come in at a later time because they're staggering patients, so nobody is in the waiting room together. Already at the front door, I'm seeing some small changes. No need to touch the door knob, they've unlatched the door. I can just come on in and we'll see how this goes!"

Chairs in the downtown San Francisco office are spaced out, there's a Plexiglas shield at the front desk, and air filters in every room.

Dr. Kathy Mueller even displayed a nice graph, charting when her office closed and how the Bay Area's coronavirus case curve compares to other U.S. cities, which have much larger curves.

Some preventative care gradually resumed this month at Dr. Mueller's office. She says some patients, particularly older more vulnerable people, are cancelling appointments, but that many patients are enthusiastic about returning to the dentist.

RELATED: Bay Area dentist says 'dental office may be safer than going to the grocery store'

"I'm very happy and glad that they're coming back because oral health is very important," said Dr. Suzette Villanova, a dentist and hygienist in the office.
Kate Larsen says, "Before my cleaning, I was asked to wash my hands, do a double hydrogen peroxide rinse that has a virus destroying effect, and then put my mask back on, before returning to the chair for a temperature check. The cleaning routine felt familiar, though as Dr. Mueller explains their office has changed some tools."

"In teeth cleaning appointments, we're no longer using the Cavitron, which is an ultrasonic device that sprays air and water. We bought special hygiene polishers that run at a very slow speed so that we're not generating material that goes into the air," said Dr. Mueller.

Kate Larsen: "While I had my teeth polished, a second hygienist held a high speed suction device to ensure no particles were aerosolized. The suction is much stronger than the traditional dental suction tool, but it's not irritating or painful."

The hygienists wipe down, clean, and sterilize everything in the exam rooms between each patient, but that's not new to dentistry, which for decades has had very high hygiene standards.

"Dentistry has been at the forefront of infection control for a long, long time," said Dr. Mueller, who added, "We know how to take care of people and keep people safe."

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