Alaska dentists say state testing mandate will hurt field
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Dentists in Alaska say their business may be hurt by a state mandate requiring patients to have a negative test result for the coronavirus within 48 hours of an elective procedure.
The testing requirements cover non-emergency procedures generating aerosols, floating airborne particles that can carry the virus and are produced through the use of many dental tools, Alaska Public Media reported Sunday.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state health officials said elective health care procedures could restart in a phased approach, but point to federal guidelines saying dentists are at high risk of virus exposure.
Dr. David Nielson, president of the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners, told state Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink there is a challenge for patients to obtain test results within 48 hours of a dental appointment.
“Basically, what that means is, in your view, dentistry is just shut down indefinitely,” Nielson said to Zink, who disagreed.
Dentists are already taking steps to practice safely and could start taking more patients if they did not need to follow the testing mandate, Nielson said.
“We do believe that waiting for the availability of testing to ramp up to the levels that would be necessary will jeopardize the oral health of the public,” he said.
Alaska’s testing capacity is increasing as other groups affected by the mandate are working to have patients tested, Zink said.
“We are seeing numerous groups, including surgeons, stand up ways to be able to get testing available,” she said.
The state mandate is less restrictive than the current recommendation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said all non-urgent dental appointments should be postponed.
The draft framework proposed by the Alaska dental board all differs from CDC recommendations on personal protective equipment.
The CDC recommends an N95 respirator and either goggles or a full face shield. The Alaska board’s framework said if goggles or face shields are not available, dentists should understand there is a higher risk for infection and use their professional judgment.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.