Our Urgent Dental Care response to Covid-19 – a personal reflection from dental nurses Thai and Tanisha
We both passed our dental nurse qualification in April 2019, having begun our apprenticeships with Smile Together in 2017. We had become part of the team working full time across West Country Dental Care and Brighter Dental in providing unscheduled care, community and general dentistry services. We were gaining fantastic experience and both really enjoying the variety within our dental nursing roles.
Then in March this year it all drastically and unexpectedly changed due to COVID–19.
Dental services ceased across the country but Smile Together’s dental centre at Harleigh Road in Bodmin was chosen by NHS England to be the county’s first Urgent Dental Care Hub. This is where we are both now based and actively seeing patients, but in a very different environment.
Safety has become even more important and the company has provided lots of reassurance in this respect. It was mandatory for us to be fit tested for specialised masks and we were invited to be fitted-up at Harleigh Road. This process involved each of us wearing a mask and hood, a bitter solution was squirted through the hood and we were asked to carry out a range of movements to confirm our mask were safe. Our dentist colleague Sarah (who has provided her own reflections of delivering dentistry during Covid-19 here) really helped put our minds at rest, talking us through this whole experience which made everything much less daunting.
When we arrive to work each day we have to ensure plastic coverings are sufficiently placed in the surgeries we are using, remove anything that is not essential and make sure that everything the dentist may need is available. We then have to gather PPE for the first treating nurse and dentist team – this involves shoe covers, a fluid resistant gown, our own mask, foam googles, a hat and a full face visor. Some of us have reusable masks that we can use but these become really uncomfortable after a long period and it is also really hard for patients and colleagues to understand what we are saying. We do therefore get some very odd looks from our patients and the dentist but together we’re working it all out – our dentist colleague Assal’s first line is ‘welcome to my spaceship’ which really helps to put the patient at ease!
The working conditions have been much harder than we ever dreamed when training to be a dental nurse. You tend to get very hot wearing that additional PPE, much of it being plastic, and due to the nature of Covid-19 transmission we can’t run air-conditioning – of course the Cornish weather has been as hot and sunny as it could possibly be since we opened our Hub on Easter Saturday!
We are restricted to what treatment we can actually carry out due to the fact that, where possible, we avoid the use of aerosols. We try to prepare each surgery as best we can – each dentist has use of two surgeries so we can clean down really well between patients – but if we need any instruments or materials that are not already in the surgery we have to knock and ask another nurse to source these from a different surgery. Whilst the treatment can therefore take a little longer, this has really helped us all build a closer relationship with colleagues that we wouldn’t ordinarily work with, and overall this has made this whole experience much easier to cope with.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic which has been really daunting, so there have naturally been some up’s and down’s but Smile Together is an amazing team and everyone has supported each other so well. We’ve all had to adapt to these new ways of working, new procedures and protocols, but have kept one another positive with jokes, good humour and the occasional doughnut!