Texas dentists eager to reopen offices as state loosens COVID-19 medical restrictions

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would loosen restrictions on medical procedures, dentists across the state immediately looked for the fine print.

Dentists, hygenists and patients have spent the past five days attempting to interpret whether trips to the dentist are allowed under Abbott’s executive order. The initial mandate was meant to reserve the supply of personal protective equipment for COVID-19 patients. Some non-essential surgeries will once again be allowed in the state, starting Wednesday.

For days, dental workers have wondered when they’d be able to see patients again.

“The uncertainty is what has us members and dentists across the state wondering whether or not we can open,” said Dr. Matt Roberts, who has run a small dental office in the rural East Texas town of Crockett for four decades.

Roberts, who serves as chair of the Texas Dental Association Council on Legislative and Governmental Affairs, has shuttered his practice except for emergencies, worried he would violate Abbott’s orders if he saw patients during the coronavirus pandemic. He has carefully read and re-read Abbott’s initial order and the updated mandate that calls for loosened restrictions.

“Does this mean that we can open our practices and perform any dental procedure that we feel qualified to do? Does it mean we still need to limit ourselves to emergent care until May 8, when this order, I think expires,” Roberts asked rhetorically, as he awaits the green light from the Governor to reopen.

Roberts is not alone in the quest for information.

“We get so many calls from so many doctors trying to say: Is this okay? Is that okay? Is this not okay?” Gov. Abbott said Wednesday morning during a radio appearance on KFYO-Lubbock’s Chad Hasty Show. “And there’s been a lot of— if you would— misreading on the doctor side more on the conservative side, we actually had allowed more surgical procedures than what doctors were thinking were allowed.”

This week, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners issued new guidance interpreting Abbott’s updated order.

“Licensed dental professionals are required to postpone procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without timely performance of the procedure would be at risk for serious medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient’s dentist,” the board wrote in its document published Tuesday.

The Texas Dental Association, in conjunction with the Texas Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Texas Association of Orthodontists, and the Texas Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, submitted recommendations to the Governor’s newly-established strike force on how to safely reopen dental offices.

Some of the suggestions include requiring staff be checked for symptoms daily, and screening patients before scheduling in-person apointments.

Abbott said he planned to issue updated orders on April 27 involving additional phased reopening of Texas businesses.

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