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The effect of COVID-19 on an associate dentist

As a dentist in Oregon, we are currently under an executive order from the governor mandating that dentists, as well as other PPE-using providers, cease all nonemergency treatment until June 15. For dental practice owners in the state, this is a massive financial hit. When one considers the impact of the pandemic on dental offices, it’s easy to focus on the clinical responses. Personally, I think a greater concern is that of the affected workforce.

Photo of Dr. Fairlee

Dr. Fairlee

On March 17, I was contacted by my employer letting me know that our office would be closing to all non-essential treatment for at least three weeks. I was fortunate to have an employer who offered to pay three weeks PTO to all employees at the time of the closure. By the following week, the executive order had been released that extended that three-week closure into a nearly 13-week closure.

Initially, I was unsure what that meant for my employment. As details were getting ironed out, I didn’t know if I would still be on-call for 13 weeks for emergency patients, if my employer would offer to continue payroll for employees through the entire closure with hopes of financial reimbursement from the government at a later date, or if I would be laid off and have to apply for unemployment.

While I waited for details, my mind swirled with the stresses that many of us are currently all-too-familiar with: How can I afford this? When will I actually be returning to work? Will someone close to me contract the coronavirus? Will I contract the virus? Is our emergency medical system ready for the impending tidal wave?

On March 30, I was informed that my office would be laying off all employees, myself included, until the governor lifted the executive order. The owner dentist would be the one treating any emergencies that may arise with our patients of record. In order to ensure my eligibility for unemployment, my employment contract was terminated with the plan to re-contract after the practice restrictions are lifted. Our office collected all available gloves and masks in order to donate any surplus supplies to the State so that PPE could be redistributed to hospitals in need.

So at this point in time, I am currently floating in the strange abyss that much of the country is. We have a stay-at-home order in our state, so my husband and I are limiting all of our interactions with the outside world by minimizing trips to public spaces. We are cooped in a house with an emotional two-year-old and a stir-crazy four-year-old. We are balancing our pre-existing parenting ideals of minimal screen time and balanced meals with the internal adult drives of staying informed and minimizing anxiety.

I could easily get caught up in trying to find ways to remain dentally active, and I’ve seen social media pages with dentists going to great lengths to continue providing a wide array of treatment to their patients. Instead of obsessing over the issues within my dental bubble, I’m choosing to take a step back and remind myself of the reasons I am not working.

Our nation’s emergency medical system and its providers are undersupplied and underprepared for the onslaught of cases they are professionally and morally obligated to treat. Our small businesses are not able to withstand the heavy financial impact that social distancing and other mandates impose. Our loved ones are at risk for developing disease that could potentially end their lives. The entire population is in the eye of an ethical storm where the raindrops are threats to our civil liberty, and the wind-gusts are the push to protect our fellow man.

To make a long story short, now is not the time for me to focus on dentistry. Now is the time to swallow my pride, collect my fears and anxieties, and do my best to help the crisis pass.

Dr. Amberena Fairlee is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Bend, Oregon and graduated from Oregon Health and Sciences School of Dentistry in 2017. Amber is an associate general dentist in Redmond, Oregon. When she’s not working or serving on the Oregon Dental Association’s Board of Trustees, she can be found drinking lattes, cuddling her husband, Nathan, and playing with her kids, Jasper and Fiona.

13 comments

  • Great article Dr. Fairlee. June 15th is a very long time from now and can be really anxiety-inducing for everyone, especially when we have student loans and just started to go into the work-force. Good luck, hope the best for you and your family.

  • Sampada Deshpande

    Very well written!

  • Thank you, Dr. Fairlee, for verbalizing (writing) and normalizing what so many of us are feeling, despite the discomfort!

  • Pingback: The effect of COVID-19 on an associate dentist – New Dentist Blog - Dental Jay

  • Nida Mirza-Manual

    Very well said Dr. Fairlee so proud of you.

  • Nida Mirza-Manual

    Very well said Dr. Fairlee, So proud of you.

  • As your assistant I miss you more then words can say. As your friend I’m glad we are all safe. I am beyond proud of you and can’t wait for us to be a team again.

  • Well put indeed. I am a practicing dentist in Chesapeake, Virginia and have only been treating emergency patients since March 10th. We are tentatively able to open our offices for normal dental care on May 8th. Like you , PPE is almost impossible to order. I can’t order N95 masks and it is difficult to get level 3 as well. Level 1 and 2 are available in limited supply as well as face shields and gowns. I don’t feel comfortable treating patients without proper protection. It is unsafe for myself, my staff and the patient. Our profession is in a quandary.

  • My state plans to open up May 1 for all dental treatment. Most of us will not have proper PPE and will be expected to work. I wish my state would delay opening until we have all the PPE we need.

  • Great article! Here in Virginia many dentists donated all or most of their PPE to hospitals. Our leadership met with Governor Northam recently and he bascially told us that he wasn’t going to replace what we donated. He suggested to contact the local public health department- they may have some masks etc. I believe that we will need to test each and every patient coming back to our offices to make sure they are not currently infected (until there is a vaccine that may need to be done every 6 months). No other medical field has to deal with aerosols as dentists do. One of my friends has a brother who is a dentist in NY and one of his colleagues died from Coronavirus from a patient. The ADA needs to make sure that we can either prescribe or phyiscally perform rapid tests for Coronavirus before we resume practice.

  • Jennifer Mahoney

    Is there no one (ADA) that can lobby for us? No representation of the impending financial ruin for most private practices? Where is the government handout to keep us going? We are healthcare. We are essential. But we are expected to sit back eat the outrageous costs being imposed on us, in addition to being on the verge of bankruptcy. Do we have no representation fighting for us.?

    • John D Mahilo, DDS

      Jennifer I can tell you just how hard our ADA and each individual state Association and local dental society is working on our behalf. This is a very difficult and complex situation. Dentistry is the step child of health care and is being treated as such. Organized dentistry was a major force in the changes in the second PPP loan program that resulted in an incredible increase in the dollars that went to dental practices. The Ohio Dental Association has been instrumental in helping members obtain sources for PPE for our May 1st reopening so that we had kn95 masks and face shields available. Keep in mind, dentistry doesn’t make the rules and many many levels of government and other professional Associations are actually opposed to the reopening of dental practices until a vaccine is developed and the population is inoculated…keeping us closed for 12-18 months minimum. We must stand together and row in the same direction!

  • Thanks for the article, very informative.

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