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Maine is looking to the federal government for updated guidelines on the care dentists can provide as Maine and other states start to allow health care providers to provide more routine and elective care that they had to put off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have those new guidelines in place by Monday, the state will defer to the American Dental Association, which has developed its own guidelines and safety protocols for dentists to use as they reopen and start performing routine cleanings and other procedures.
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The announcement from Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew came after dentists encountered conflicting messages and confusion late last month over the care they could provide in the first stage of Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage reopening plan.
While dentists were preparing to be able to return to offering routine care and performing nonemergency procedures after May 1, the rules the state eventually issued for dentists limited their operations to emergencies only. Maine is one of only seven states currently limiting dentists to emergency care, according to the American Dental Association.
In establishing those rules, the state deferred to guidelines the U.S. CDC issued on April 27 that recommended that dental care be limited to emergencies. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Tuesday during a Senate hearing that the public health agency is working on updating those recommendations for health care providers.
Sen. Susan Collins took Maine dentists’ concerns to Redfield during the hearing.
“If dentists are following the American Dental Association guidelines; if they’re instituting strict protective measures for their patients, their staffs, their hygienists, and themselves; and if they’re closely examining and seeing a decline in the number of COVID-19 infections in their county, are these reasonable factors for states to consider in reopening the practice of dentistry?” Collins said.
The reason for the CDC’s recommendation that dentists open only for emergencies is the high risk involved in working within inches of patients’ mouths and performing procedures that cause saliva to spray. The coronavirus has been shown to survive in aerosols for hours and on some surfaces for days.
Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, previously told the BDN that Maine should have followed guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over U.S. CDC guidelines. That agency advises states with low rates of COVID-19 to allow facilities to provide nonemergency care.
“There are parts of Maine that are well beyond ready to open up, including for comprehensive dental care,” he said late last month. “There are people that spent a lot of money in preparation for reopening the next couple of days, and now they’re stuck with all these bills because of poor planning by the administration.”
Watch: What will it take for COVID-19 to go away?