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Pandemics and PPE: The Changing Role of Dental Nurses

When the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown in March 2020, large swathes of the public prepared themselves to work from home for the foreseeable. For them, it was an opportunity to spend more time with their families, cut costs on commuting and enjoy rolling out of bed an hour later. For those in the health and care sector, the reality couldn’t have been more different. Their jobs were not only about to become much harder in terms of workload, but they’d be doing these difficult jobs under layers of uncomfortable personal protective (PPE) equipment to keep the virus at bay.

Communication

Dental nurses pride themselves on their ability to connect and communicate with patients. Discussing procedures and providing comfort to nervous patients is an integral part of their role, but with the required PPE, this made this even harder to do. Of course, good communication must be maintained despite the obstacles but there must be recognition that staff must now have to go above and beyond to ensure that their patients receive the same level of care as they did pre-pandemic. Face masks have been a barrier for those who are hard of hearing. Many who rely on lip-reading have struggled with communication during the pandemic and it poses an even greater challenge for them not knowing when this requirement will end. Attending a dental appointment can be frightful for some and being greeted with staff head to toe in PPE certainly adds to the anxiety. This makes the job of a dental nurse even harder as they try to compensate for this loss of connection by communicating empathy and understanding with the only part visible to clients – their eyes.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Discomfort

Layers upon layers of PPE can be unbearable when the room is warm and you’re on your feet for most of the day. The stress of having to de-kit and re-dress whilst maintaining a sterile environment can be frustrating. It’s not uncommon to have bruises and red marks from hours of wearing FFP3 masks. Whilst all dental staff can recognise the necessity of using good PPE at a time like this, it creates so much added stress on an already over-stretched workforce. Staff have had to adapt to multiple Layers of PPE which can restrict movement and make a warm room feel unbearably hot. It is the combination of these things that make standard tasks feel ever so more challenging. This adds to the stress that many teams already have as they battle an ever-growing waiting list. Ofcourse, this is the new normal and until the final day arrives when the pandemic is no more, this practice will continue. Afterall, good PPE protects both patients and their dental team. It’s unpleasant to wear but far more preferable to getting a COVID-19 infection. It is the sheer sacrifice that dental staff have made up and down the country that has ensured that everyone still has access to care. Dental staff are probably at most risk since their job involves direct exposure to the key route of viral transmission. This fear does not subside but having good PPE can certainly reassure both patients and their dental team that they are as safe as is possible.

Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy from Pexels

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