Where Do We Go from Here?

July 1, 2020
Dr. John Flucke

Volume 54, Issue 7

Innovation surrounding the current pandemic is not only a great sign of the indefatigable human spirit, it’s also incredibly inspiring and we should be proud of those who’ve stepped up to answer the call.

I’d be willing to bet that as you read this, almost all of you have gone back to work. Now, work is a relative term. I’ve always told my family that I go “to the office” instead of “to work” because I really love what I do. Work always brings to mind the idea of doing something that you don’t like/want to do and that doesn’t apply to me when I’m in my office.

Don’t get me wrong, there are the occasional days when I’d rather own a bait shop, but all in all I cannot think of a better career than being in dentistry. We get to help people, we sometimes get to change lives, we make a decent living, and we are in a sector of healthcare that pretty much still allows us to call our own shots. There are not a lot of our healthcare colleagues that can check all of those boxes.

Of course, one of the other things I truly love about our profession is the constant influx of new science, new ideas, and new devices that arrive on a regular basis. Dentistry is practically on a “creative assembly line” that makes it appear almost as if we are releasing new things as fast as they can be assembled. It has become incredibly difficult to even keep up with the amount of progress that the industry is making. One thing I noticed during the industry shutdown is that instead of stopping and taking time off, dental manufacturers and R&D shops just kept innovating.

That means that now we are going to see a fairly interesting influx of products that have been waiting for their moment of introduction to the profession. Also, some companies looked at the dental landscape and pivoted knowing that, due to COVID-19, the industry will be looking for products to fill niches that didn’t exist in January of 2020.

Infection Control
One of the really admirable things about dentistry is that, for more than 30 years, we have had a tremendous reputation for infection control. In many ways dentistry led the way during the HIV crisis of the mid 1980s. Patients took notice and then began to expect that their dental visits were going to be different than in the past. And by different, I mean better. Infection control became better than any other healthcare visits outside of operating rooms and outpatient surgery centers.

I was barely out of dental school when all of these changes were taking place and there was a time when patients were concerned about our infection control. Some patients asked about sterilization procedures and some even asked to physically see the office autoclave. However those times didn’t last long. Before very long patients realized all of our extra precautions were protecting them and they became raving fans of the profession and all we had done to make things safer for them.

I feel we face a similar situation currently. Of course patients are concerned about their safety, but when patients walk into an office now and see wholesale changes in our infection control protocols, they immediately realize how much effort we are putting into their safety.

Masks
Let’s face it, it’s very easy to see full length gowns, face shields, hair covers, and potentially different masks, if your N95s have a different appearance.

The last three months have brought an amazing amount of human ingenuity to bear on the unique problems we face. When the CDC recommended the general public wear some type of cloth face covering, it seemed like everyone here in the Midwest was wearing one in a matter of a few days. Folks with the talent to sew churned out masks in amazing numbers. Currently it’s almost impossible to see someone out and about without some type of custom mask. Here in the Kansas City area, red masks adorned with arrowheads are all the rage (in support of the Super Bowl champions). When you consider the fact that no one had ever made those before, the numbers that appeared seemingly overnight is truly amazing.

Face Shields
The same goes for face shields. In mid-April I was struggling to find a source for them and then suddenly, in what was truly a number of days, they were appearing from a number of companies. The incredible part was that most of those companies had never made face shields for healthcare previously. They created them because they knew there was a need and felt obligated to help healthcare providers who were desperate for a source.

In my case, we were really lucky. I was approached by a local plastics company the week before we reopened that wanted to help. Within a couple of days we had prototypes. However, they wouldn’t fit over our surgical scopes. Working over the weekend, they cranked out enough face shields for my entire clinical team that solved that problem and worked like a charm. They delivered them the morning before the first scheduled patients on May 18.

I’m also currently working with a custom snow ski company that realized it would be pretty easy for them to make face shields. They reached out to me and I’ve been working with some of their prototypes for a couple of days as I write this. Why would a ski company start making face shields? The owner of the company told me he knew there was a shortage and they wanted to help. How awesome is that?

Non-Contact Thermometers
As protocols began to evolve and become known, I knew having and using non-contact thermometers was going to be an important part of the patient intake process. I was still a month out from reopening, but I thought I should probably start to acquire some of the gear I knew I would need.

Donning my mask, I headed down to my local Walgreens. When I walked in the door, one of the helpful associates asked me what I was looking for. When I told her non-contact thermometers she told me, “They would be at the end of aisle nine… if we had any. But don’t waste your time. We haven’t had any for over a week and we have no idea when we will get more.” Needless to say, that was a tad depressing.

I headed home and logged into my Amazon account, only to find basically the same situation. Sold out with no indication of when more would be available.

Fortunately, I happen to own a few diode lasers and one of them is an AMD Lasers Picasso. Because of that, I am on the AMD email list. About a day or so after my fruitless thermometer search, I received an email from AMD. The company was announcing that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had made the decision to begin selling a line of personal protective equipment (amdlasers.com/collections/protective-equipment). And one of the products they were selling was non-contact thermometers. I promptly ordered three and they were in my office a few days later. 

Once again a company saw a need in the industry and quickly found a way to serve that need. AMD Lasers had never before sold PPE, but when they saw that the industry was in dire need, they made a decision to help and quickly scaled up to help dental offices find products that even the mighty Amazon was having trouble sourcing.

Wrapping Up
I’ve always been fascinated and thrilled with innovation. That’s probably why I have always been in love with technology. The innovation surrounding the current pandemic is not only a great sign of the indefatigable human spirit, it’s also incredibly inspiring.

I love the fact that so many people saw the need to help and then did so without a second thought. The pandemic has been terrible on so many levels for so many people. Yet, in the midst of fear, suffering, and loneliness has come hard work, creativity, and caring for others. Problems have been addressed and some even solved by people who only did so because it was “the right thing to do.” I firmly believe we are all called to help one another and I’m proud of those who in so many ways have answered that call.

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