Creating Reusable Gowns to Meet Post–COVID-19 Infection Control Needs

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report July 2021, Volume 55, Issue 7

One clinician’s background in fashion helped launch ProtectAll PPE during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for the dental industry regarding infection control protocols. We should have been more vigilant in the past, and we need better protection now and in the future.

When we reopened following last year’s 6-week COVID-19 shutdown, we, like many other dental offices, had to completely rethink safety protocols. At that time, we were facing a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) gowns, masks, and gloves. How to safely provide dental care to our patients was a huge challenge for all dentists across the country.

We realized wearing a more protective gown when seeing patients has become a necessity for the future of dentistry. The question was: What kind of gown would meet this need? Does the gown need to be single-use disposable or are there protective reusable gowns available? The severe shortage of PPE gowns was particularly problematic. Given the contagiousness of COVID-19, simple scrubs will never be adequate again.

Fortunately, I have a clothing design background. I decided to design and make PPE gowns for use in my practice. These gowns were designed for use by dentists, hygienists, and assistants in daily practice. We have been using these same gowns and caps since June 2020. My staff, my patients, and many of my dental and medical colleagues highly praise the PPE we wear in the office. They comment on the gowns’ protectiveness for staff and patients as well as the convenience and comfort. I found a manufacturer to produce these gowns in greater numbers, and now we are sharing them with colleagues in our area via our ProtectAll PPE brand.

When designing my ideal gown, I made sure to combine the protection working in a dental practice demands with the comfort clinicians want. The gowns we now produce include the following features.

  • Water-resistant fabric: The material we use is a water-resistant fabric that can continue to repel moisture after more than 100 washes. A water molecule is 10 times smaller than a virus and 100 times smaller than a bacterial particle. So, we are confident this gown will stop pathogen penetration. This is the scientific foundation for us in choosing the material used to make these gowns. The material is very comfortable for our daily work lives, and the water-resistant material is much more protective than cotton scrubs or disposable gowns.
  • Easy to disinfect: The material we use can be quickly wiped with alcohol to disinfect between patients. We know that, after seeing a patient, pathogen particles in the air will drop and adhere to the surface on our face shields and gowns. How do we prevent this transfer from patient to patient? The commonly used gown is disposable and theoretically needs to be changed between patients. This will increase the time you spend between patients and tremendously increase your PPE costs. Because our gowns are made with water-resistant material, we can use alcohol wipes to disinfect our face shields, upper bodies, and arms between patients. This 10-second disinfecting process is quick and easy.
  • Cost savings: These gowns will save 90% of the cost compared with disposable gowns. They also eliminate time spent constantly changing gowns between patients. In our business, time is money. By using these gowns, we immeasurably improved our infection control standard compared with our protocols prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. Normally you would think improving infection prevention would increase costs, but that did not turn out to be the case. We calculated that our gowns could provide cost savings of up to 90% compared with disposable gowns by looking at the cost of disposable gowns. On average, a dentist sees 10 patients a day. Ten gowns cost roughly $10. In a year, 200 working days will bring costs for just 1 provider to around $2000. Include your hygienists and dental assistants and the cost will be multiplied by 5, bringing you to a $10,000 cost per year for a single, average-sized dental office. With the reusable gowns in your office, you are looking at a 1-time investment for roughly a year. Each provider should get 4 PPE gowns for the year. That would only cost about $100 per person. If you choose to use reusable gowns, the best investment you can make will be a laundry machine in your office. By washing used gowns in the practice, you will have clean clothes to go home with every day without the need to worry about carrying droplets on your person.
  • Going green: These gowns are eco-friendly and eliminate unnecessary waste. Each year, if using disposable gowns, the average-sized office is throwing away roughly 10,000 gowns. Add that to the cost, and you can see why switching to reusable gowns is the future for dentistry.

After creating these gowns and using them in my office since June 2020, we can operate at a similar pre–COVID-19 speed for patient visits with vastly improved infection control. Most importantly, our patients have spoken highly about the infection control protocols we have put in place, including our strict adherence to wearing these gowns and disinfecting ourselves between patients.