‘It’s time to worry’: Michigan dentists say regular care must resume

Coronavirus

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of dentists cross the state are pushing for the governor to let them get back to work, saying continuing to delay routine dental care could lead to a public health crisis.

Under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, only urgent dental care is allowed.

Dr. Seth Vruggink, a general dentist in Grand Haven, has grown concerned about his patients, who have not been able to get nonemergency care since dental practices were shut down two months ago in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vruggink said the consequences of delayed dental care can be dangerous.

“If I was a mother of a child who was scheduled for a small filling in March, I’d be worried now because that’s no longer a small filling,” Vruggink said. “If I had a child who was in orthodontics and has had the same wire on for 15 weeks, it’s time to worry.”

Vruggink said not allowing routine care for the extended period of time has caused minor dental problems to become expensive and painful medical emergencies.

“There’s such a big gap between urgent and emergent care in dentistry and what is elective and that is where I see a public health crisis right now, occurring in that gap,” Vruggink said. “You’re talking about patients with gum disease who needed maintenance visits who are actively losing bone right now. That bone does not come back.”

Oral surgeons who are seeing a majority of the emergency cases during the pandemic have even more alarming stories. Vruggink said his friend, an oral surgeon in northern Michigan, has seen it all recently.

“He said, ‘I went to work last week and I felt like I was in a third world country,’” Vruggink said. “’He said, ‘This reminded me of mission trips to Honduras, draining large abscesses, extracting teeth that should’ve been saved.’”

Oral surgeon Dr. Dan Madion said it has been hard to see so much suffering, which is why he’s helping lead the statewide push to get all dentists back to work.

“Frankly, we feel prepared to go back now and treat patients safely,” Madion said.

Whitmer seemed to disagree when addressing the matter at a press conference May 1.

“At this point, we know that the COVID-19 is spread through the mouth and that’s what dentistry is all about,” said Whitmer, who noted she is married to a dentist. “And so we’re not releasing that at this juncture.”

When it comes to using personal protection equipment, dentists say they do it best.

“Dentistry has been at the forefront of wearing personal protective equipment,” Madion said. “It’s been our standard of care for decades to wear eye protection, masks, gloves and now with the pandemic, we’ll be wearing respirators, face shields, gowns.”

Many dentists across the state are using the downtime to prepare, studying the guidelines published by the American Dental Association about how to safely reopen and securing loads of PPE.

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