When the COVID-19 epidemic hit southern California, it immediately became clear to one oral surgeon that dental professionals had a vital role to play in fighting the virus. After 30 years of distinguished service with the U.S. Army, Dr. Robert G. Hale had established a thriving private practice in Woodland Hills. He immediately recognized the challenge that the novel coronavirus presented to both the medical and dental communities, and set about organizing his fellow dental professionals to lend aid.
Dr. Hale partnered with Connection Marketing to assemble the West Valley Dental Task Force, a voluntary group of oral surgeons, prosthodontists, periodontists, and general dentists who have come together to support front-line medical workers during the current crisis. Knowing that dental professionals and dental practices are in a unique position to help, the task force takes a multi-pronged approach to alleviating pressure on local hospitals and providing needed material and professional assistance.
First, dental offices routinely stock masks, gloves, and other medical supplies that many hospitals have run short of. The West Valley Dental Task Force helps to coordinate donations of these items from currently closed dental offices to the local hospitals most in need. This helps ensure that medical workers caring for COVID-19 patients can protect their own health.
Members of the task force also provide emergency dental care for patients in the emergency room setting, freeing up doctors to focus their efforts on caring for those with the coronavirus. Unfortunately, non-COVID-19 emergencies are not taking a break simply because our medical community is stretched thin. Dental professionals, particularly those with surgical specialties, are often able to help out, giving doctors critical backup support.
The West Valley Dental Task Force is also helping keep patients out of the ER altogether. For most patients, the closure of dental practices due to COVID-19 might mean postponing a cleaning or other routine care that can wait. Especially for those who don’t have a regular dentist, however, these closures can mean not knowing who to turn to if an acute dental problem such as an oral infection arises. The task force has set up free telemedical dental services to help such patients by remotely assessing symptoms, writing prescriptions for antibiotics, and determining when it’s appropriate for them to seek out emergency treatment in person.
Finally, the task force isn’t just focused on the immediate challenges posed by COVID-19. Dental practices have closed because the close proximity of practitioner and patient made both vulnerable to the transmission of the virus. The task force is actively involved in formulating new strategies and protocols to ensure that when practices do reopen, they can do so safely for both dentists and patients.
In a time full of uncertainty, our community shows us that there is also reason to hope. With organizations like the West Valley Dental Task Force supporting hospitals, doctors, and patients, we see the good that can come from applying their expertise and skills to facing this new problem.