'Concerned for my patients': COVID-19 through the eyes of dentist Janice Stewart

·3 min read

For Janice Stewart, getting work calls at home wasn't out of the ordinary.

Typically she'd assess the problem and then schedule an appointment to fix it — either that day or the start of the following week.

But what do you do when 80 people are calling you in pain, with infections or broken teeth and every dental clinic on the Island has been forced to shut its doors?

"It's very frustrating because you can tell people [are] calling you probably as a last resort ... they are looking for help," said Stewart, the president of the Dental Association of P.E.I.

"Basically, we could prescribe antibiotics and painkillers and suggest ways to file down a sharp tooth until we could get in to see the patients to fix the teeth."

Going without treatment

When Prince Edward Island put its first round of tough COVID-19 restriction in place in mid-March, essential services like hospitals, grocery stores and public transit carried on.

But at the time those restrictions were announced, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison recommended dental offices close for two weeks.

I was concerned for my patients' overall well-being ... how long they would have to go without having treatment. — Janice Stewart, dentist

"It was hard to just mask problems with antibiotics and painkillers. We typically like to get in and treat the problem as soon as we can," said Stewart.

"But under the circumstances, we did the best that we could."

Submitted by Janice Stewart
Submitted by Janice Stewart

As Stewart watched how COVID-19 unfolded in other parts of the world, she said she remembers thinking P.E.I.'s initial lockdown was a "great idea."

But soon after, she wondered how long would it last.

"I was concerned for my patients' overall well-being," she said. "How they were, how long they would have to go without having treatment.

"I was also very concerned for my staff being off during such an uncertain time."

'Great dealing with Islanders'

Finally, in April, Stewart said two centralized clinics opened, allowing dentists to send patients there for emergency treatment and extractions.

"That was certainly a big help."

And eventually, Stewart said her dental office was given the green light to open at the end of May.

"It was very limited treatment and we could not do anything that would create an aerosol," she said, referring to a fine airborne mist. "It was pretty much basically just extractions in our offices."

Submitted by Janice Stewart
Submitted by Janice Stewart

Anyone who has been in a dental clinic is likely familiar with an environment that epitomizes the word "sterilization."

But even as infection control leaders, health protocols were ramped up to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The new routine is getting much easier each day, and it seems quite normal now compared to what it felt like in the beginning," she said.

That new routine has transformed patients' cars into waiting rooms and made face shields, gowns and hand sanitizer a new normal for the industry.

"It was just great dealing with Islanders," said Stewart. "They're very appreciative of the extra measures that dentists have taken to keep them safe and ... to keep our staff safe and ourselves."

'I was not alone'

Like many on P.E.I., the past several months for dentists have been filled with change, adaptation and new normals.

But according to Stewart, it's also highlighted the importance of what she and many others have dedicated their lives to doing.

"I know I was not alone with the phone calls I received at home," she said. "Just realizing how much demand there is for oral health care on P.E.I. and how important it is for our overall health and well-being, I think that keeps us going.

"I just want to continue to treat Islanders and treat their oral health as best we can."

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