The straight and narrow – life back in orthodontics

straight and narrow COVID-19Emma Laing talks about what life in orthodontics has been like since she’s returned to the practice and started seeing patients.

Life back at work

Last month when I was writing, it was just ahead of me resuming clinical work after the pandemic.

It’s great to be back and, in a way, it’s been energising to resume my regular routine and see patients after such a protracted period. It’s pleasing to finally help with their treatment and move things on to the next stage.

It is equally exhausting with the additional PPE and safety precautions that we have to take. Plus frustrating with the scheduling limitations due to fallow periods.

I’ve accepted this ‘new normal’ and become very accustomed to it. But I hope that some of the precautions in dentistry lessen a little with time. Another month from now I anticipate reassessing my new workflow to make it as efficient as possible.

It amazes me how the nursing staff adapt to so much additional work and precautions with little complaint. I have found everyone is going above and beyond their regular role to ensure patients’ safety, creating a stronger team collaboration.

The patient schedule

It is very uncertain what kind of schedule we would come back to. Orthodontics is an elective treatment. So my initial impression was that there would be an influx of mid-treatment patients and few new patients.

I’ve actually been busier than ever, with many new enquiries, particularly from those finding me online.

I expect this is a result of three things: people having time to reflect on their expectations and whether they really want orthodontic treatment; time to search for this online; and a few months of reduced outgoings for many, enabling them to save up for this.

Patient empathy

With my mid-treatment patients I find the orthodontist-patient relationship is strong as we meet for adjustment appointments so frequently. It amazes me how kind and accepting patients have been about waiting so long to see me.

I have experienced many patients in recent weeks opening up and telling me about their work anxieties, mental health issues and concerns for the future. Some have lost their jobs, had illnesses in their families and experienced COVID-19 themselves some time ago. For some, who were not even high risk, coming to see me was one of their first trips out of the house in months, due to anxieties about the pandemic.

There has been huge concern for taking public transport to appointments. I have found explaining all our safety procedures at the appointments, in addition to the pre-appointment triage screening, has been of comfort.

It is reassuring to inform people of the steps we take to ensure their safety. Equally I am finding I regularly run late from all the extra talking. I am known to talk a lot!

Orthodontic treatments

I anticipated my fixed orthodontic patients having fair oral hygiene after months of no appointments with me nor the hygienist. It is pleasantly surprising to see their oral health and account this to patients having more time to ensure their oral hygiene was adequate, and not having to rush. So many patients have mentioned how not having to commute to work has given them the ability to use this time in their day more effectively. They find it easier to brush after lunch when working from home.

I’ve not seen major issues or timing setbacks with my treatment plans; with both fixed orthodontics and Invisalign the treatment has progressed well. But I am glad I was able to see patients after three months. Longer than this would inevitably have caused an issue.

The exception is with my orthognathic patients; we are still waiting for the government to permit elective surgeries such as these again. This has caused frustration for those concerned.

If I think back to how I was working in January this year, I could have never believed an event as huge as this occurring. Nor creating such a paradigm shift in our personal lives and profession.

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