On June 8th, dentistry will reopen.
This isn't as simple as it sounds.
When you're sitting in the Chair of Pain, lying back with your mouth wide open and your mouth running with water, saliva and viruses, you're blowing out droplets all the time. My dentist always wore a plastic face shield, and I could see the spit and droplets on her shield. Her predecessor was old school, and didn't wear a shield - I suppose he was used to it.
So I'm blowing viruses all the time I'm there. Whatever I'm infected with, I'm spreading it. And now, with the very infectious Covid-19, we have to be even more careful. So, after my dentist has finished drilling, filling and billing, I leave behind a small airborne cloud. The droplets will last only for a few minutes, but when the smallest droplets evaporate, they leave floating viruses in the air.
The surgery will have to be cleaned out after each patient. The surfaces sprayed, but also the air. And its going to take time. Instead of seeing three victims per hour, she'll only be doing one, and this is going to be true throughout the profession.
So our capacity for dentistry has gone from 100%, to 0%, to 33%. While it was at zero, there would have been some terrible things happening - we were, in effect, back in medieval times of no dentists, suffer in silence. My teeth are as bad as many other people, and for the last three months, I've been extra careful not to break anything.
I got lucky; I had a crown done at the start of March, and an extraction a week before the lock down. Indeed, my personal lock down started the day after the extraction. And I've had no trouble with my teeth in the last three months. I say lucky, because a lost filling, or a cracked tooth, or a chipped tooth, has been happening to me on a fairly frequent basis for several years, because when I was a lad, the dental fashion was for extreme drilling. The answer to caries, was drill, drill, drill, then fill. My hollowed-out teeth aren't as strong as they might have been.
For the first few months, dentists are going to be catching up on their backlog. People with definite dental disasters will (and should) have priority. A lost filling? Put some cheese rind in for now. Routine inspections will be on hold for a long time.
But it is good news. And we are all grateful to our NHS dentists (though we'd rather not see you) for the work that you do for us.