When COVID-19 struck – Steven Scannell as a new dental hygienist

Steven Scannell reveals the struggles he faced as a recently qualified dental hygienist in the COVID-19 pandemic

Steven Scannell reveals the struggles he faced as a recently qualified dental hygienist in the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we were told we were going into lockdown my initial thoughts were that this would only be for a short period of time.

Realisation of the severity of the situation hit and that this was likely to be the case for a lot longer.

I understood and accepted why the government put us into lockdown and the importance that this would play. However, there was a struggle to accept that, almost overnight, dental practices were going to be closed.

This would mean I would be out of work and patients would be left without valuable dental care, for what turned out to be three long months.

There was a whirlwind of emotions, with lots of highs and lows during this time.

Financial difficulties

When COVID-19 struck, having only fairly recently qualified as a dental hygienist, approaching the end of my first tax year and without three years’ tax accounts it meant I didn’t qualify for the government’s Furlough scheme. This obviously caused me even more stress and anxiety.

The self-employed threshold was over two thirds lower than that of people who were employed. This added more frustration to those in dentistry, meaning lots of dental professionals found themselves facing financial difficulties.

I’m fortunate that I work at amazing practices who have been extremely supportive throughout. They have stayed in regular contact, keeping me up to date.

My practices also kept in touch with their patients helping them out as much as they could. I had lots of periodontal patients, either mid-treatment or due to start treatment, so we kept in contact with them sending them Tepee brushes to ensure they kept on top of their oral hygiene.

A mind of thoughts

When dental practices were finally told they could reopen there was lots of things running through my mind; were the practices  going to survive this financial crisis, not having had an income for three months and with little support in regards to rates relief and grants? Were my books going to be full again?

There was a feeling of excitement to get back to treating patients and back into hygiene again ‘as normal’.

But then I was hit with yet another hurdle, I was told that it was hand scaling only due to the restricted use on aerosol generating procedures (AGP). I do a lot of guided biofilm therapy (GBT) which my patients love, so being told I was unable to use my beloved ultrasonic and airflow was frustrating.

One of my bosses then informed me that I needed to be test fitted for a new mask, and then casually added that for this to happen I would need to shave off my beloved beard! This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to others but for me it was, I’d already lost my income and my job for three months, and now I was losing part of my identity.

I got over the beard going and thankfully my practices have survived, the books are busy and things are going well. It’s going to be a long road ahead for the practice owners, but I’m positive that they will come out the other end.

At first the added protocols and personal protective equipment were a little daunting but it’s amazing how quickly you adjust and this starts to feel like a normal routine again.

Full support

I am fortunate that I have nursing support at all my practices. My nurses have been amazing, they have all adapted to the new protocols and I honestly couldn’t appreciate their support any more. There are lots of dental hygienists out there whose practices are refusing to offer them nursing support and I can only imagine how much more stressful their days must be.

Initially, as we are only using hand instruments, I felt like we had gone backwards rather than forwards in terms of treatment. I have struggled with this as I’m very hard on myself and find it frustrating that I’m not able to do/offer the best treatment I can.

Most of the time, and in the case of maintenance patients, hand instrumentation is fine – I’m disrupting the biofilm and removing the calculus and getting results I’m happy with.

It’s the advanced periodontal patients where I feel it is not possible to achieve the best results with hand instruments alone, this is when I’ve found it very difficult and have been feeling very frustrated that I am not able to routinely offer the gold standard treatment I would normally be able to do.

I’m sure my EMS laughs at me every time I walk past it as it knows I can’t use it!

Some of my advanced, unstable, periodontal patients have been booked in for priority AGP treatment in accordance with all the recommended guidelines and allowed the appropriate fallow time. The decision was made to carry out these AGPs based on my clinical findings and where I felt hand instrumentation alone would not sufficiently treat their periodontal disease.

New ways of working as a dental hygienist

I’m adjusting to the new ways of working,  learning new techniques and skills and overall feel I am developing into a better clinician.

I’ve learnt not to be so hard on myself and to understand that the treatment offering is benefiting my patients and that I am giving them the best possible treatment I can.

Patients are definitely more appreciative of this and seem to understand the importance our roll as a dental hygienist plays in the management of their oral and general health.

I’m extremely happy to be back working full time again and grateful that I am still able to do the job I love – things could have been a lot worse. By us all following these new protocols and guidance we are doing our bit to reduce the spread of this nasty virus.

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