Countless appointments at San Luis Obispo County dental offices were canceled due to the coronavirus but patients can now slowly begin to return to their dentist for elective procedures.
"Hundreds, hundreds of patients, they're all waiting in line for us to open up again," Dr. Lynn Sayre-Carstairs, a Central Coast Dental Society trustee, said.
But as those patients are welcomed back for non-emergent care, they will be expected to follow new safety procedures.
Ana Garcia Brady, the office manager at San Luis Oral Surgery and Dental Implant Center on Peach Street, said her best advice for returning patients is to be, well, patient.
"We're trying to space them out in their appointments, so instead of staggering one next to another, we're leaving about 15 to 20 minutes in between patients," Garcia Brady said.
In light of the pandemic, many offices are now implementing hygiene rules like a hand washing station, temperature checks, and mandatory use of masks.
Some clinics will even ask patients to use their car as a waiting room.
"We treat everyone like they're infectious," Garcia Brady said. "The surgical assistants are wearing an N95 mask at all times and on top they have a Level 3 mask to keep them protected."
Many offices are implementing paperless and cashless billing to limit the risks of spreading the virus.
According to Sayre-Carstairs, who also treats her own patients in addition to serving on the CCDS, dental offices are also being held to a higher safety standard to avoid the virus spread.
Many offices have since installed new air ventilation systems to help filter air, according to Sayre-Carstairs. Staff will also sanitize the office before each new patient enters.
Because dental staff must change their personal protective equipment before each new patient they see, some offices are even assessing a service fee to patients for the cost of the PPE.
As appointments begin to fill the calendars, Sayre-Carstairs has a warning.
"If there's a surge of COVI-19 in SLO County, it's very possible we go back to phase one, meaning we get the strong suggestion again to close our offices and give PPE to the hospitals and we're right back where we started," Sayre-Carstairs said.