Considerations when operating a Dental Office during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Public health interests have transformed in the time of novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. While proactive and preventive dentistry were previously seen as important forms of healthcare that supported individual and social health goals, these kind of services have been deemed non-essential during Ontario’s state of emergency. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (“RCDSO”) has strongly recommended suspending all non-essential and elective dental services, and is only permitting the provision of emergency, urgent, and essential services. Dentists who continue to practice during this time, whether appropriately or otherwise, could potentially be subject to complaints before the RCDSO.

Many dentists who are still practicing during the COVID-19 pandemic are legitimately providing essential emergency services, and are making personal sacrifices to do so. In today’s difficult global situation, however, patients will likely be more sensitive to both real and perceived issues in the dental office, and may be more likely to complain. Practices that remain open may also be subject to increased attention from members of the public, the media, other dentists, and the RCDSO.

Members of the public may not understand the nuances of the government of Ontario’s emergency order, and may file complaints against dentists who continue practicing even when there are no genuine regulatory issues. It is possible that some members of the public could perceive any open dental clinic as a threat to public health. Patients might also allege that they contracted COVID-19 from their dentist.

In some cases, allegations may be made that a dentist did not restrict their practice to emergency and urgent services, failed to properly screen patients, did not institute adequate infection prevention and control (“IPAC”) measures, or failed to appropriately use personal protective equipment (“PPE”). As the COVID-19 pandemic is being taken extremely seriously by society, perceived violations of the government’s emergency order could potentially lead to interim orders. Such an order could impose restrictions on a dentist’s ability to practice, and could rise to the level of a suspension. Such a suspension could remain in place until a matter is disposed of at a disciplinary hearing.

Dentists should take extra precautions if they are continuing to practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19-related complaints may still arise even after the state of emergency has ended. Any potential complaints against dentists, whether now or in the future, should be taken very seriously.