Has COVID-19 made dental nurses more important than ever?

Eloise Meldrum talks about how she's adapted to working in the current climate and why dental nurses are more important than everEloise Meldrum talks about how she’s adapted to working in the current climate and why dental nurses are crucial to the ‘new normal’.

During the current climate, COVID-19 is in particular at the epicentre of dentistry. How we operate and all of the appointments are based around the virus, from general daily habits to new protocols in surgery. I feel all dental nurses have had to step up hugely to support our dentists, hygienists/therapists as well as our reception teams. And, of course, our patients.

As a locum dental nurse I have had to step up huge amounts. There’s added pressure when it comes to understanding each individual practice and its protocols, processes and patient journeys. My first day back to work was certainly a bit unsettling.

I felt slightly overwhelmed with the new processes (even though I have attended many webinars, CPD and articles online). And, at times, I felt myself struggling – mostly with the FFP3 masks. Having restricted breathing and general talking was a struggle and I found myself very tense during the first day back. I noticed most dentists were absolutely amazing and took the situation in their stride and didn’t complain. However, the profound effect COVID has on dental teams is evident.

Core of the practice

Skeleton staffing means a smaller team with more jobs placed on an individual. This adds extra pressure, especially when a full surgery is open. Fallow time means some surgeries are not able to take in the same amount of patients. As a result, there’s a loss of income. Although sufficient air ventilation and extra surgeries allow for reduced fallow time.

With all this in mind, I feel dental nurses are the core of a successfully functioning practice. They are able to adapt, support and go that extra mile to ensure the whole team is running smoothly. The runnings of the practices have been able to improve with the help of dental nurses and locum dental nurses.

If patients were nervous and anxious before COVID-19, they are most certainly more nervous now with the increased PPE. I have noticed many patients are hesitant when they come in. They’re unsure how to corporate with us in terms of revealing their mask, where they stand, where to put their possessions.

Even wanting to shake our hands and hug us knowing they can’t and looking for reassurance as to why we are gowned up and masked in full PPE. A simple treatment such as a filling now requires us to be in full PPE from head to toe. It’s as though we are doing complicated surgeries. However, many patients have adjusted to the ‘new norm’. They understand why we are wearing specific PPE and the reasons for this.

Communication is key

Most dentists I have assisted have explained the reasons why we are wearing full PPE. This has allowed the patient to relax and not be afraid. Of course, as always, when a patient is anxious or nervous we continue to take time to explain the process of treatments and to take it at the pace the patient needs. This keeps the patient in the loop during the procedure and they can leave feeling less worried and nervous. In some ways, they know what to expect if they are to return to the practice again.

I never thought I would say that I now prefer wearing full PPE. And I’m shocked to say I prefer wearing the FFP3 masks over our surgical masks. When putting on the general surgical mask, I feel less protected (even though it is 96% effective) and feel much safer. After three weeks of returning to dentistry, I have been able to adjust to the FFP3 masks and have learnt how to recover my breathing when I start to feel overwhelmed.

Stronger than ever

The gowns make me feel safer when working with aerosol. I know it protects my uniform from droplets of saliva, biofilm and microorganisms. I have always worn a visor during my time assisting in dentistry and would never not wear a visor. It is certainly more efficient for all treatments going forward post-COVID.

Overall, I feel the whole dental team has come together, stronger than before in order to support one another. We are all in this same situation. We have to be the number one support for our dentists, hygienists, therapists and reception teams as they are for us dental nurses.

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