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'Vague, disappointing, not good enough': BC dental hygienists react to reopening guidelines

Last Updated May 19, 2020 at 1:16 am PDT

(iStock Photo)

Guidelines for B.C.'s dental offices to reopen were released Friday, and hygienists are not required to wear N95 masks

Members of the BC Dental Hygienists Association are questioning why more PPE is required in other provinces

The association's director says some are considering retiring amid all the uncertainty

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Dental hygienists have questions about why some jurisdictions have stronger protections for a return to work than will be in place here in B.C.

Other provinces require N95 masks for all procedures, and the absence of such a requirement in B.C. is worrying to members of the BC Dental Hygienists Association.

“The big concern here is around what’s going on with PPE,” explains Executive Director Andrea Burton. “They’re feeling a little bit like guinea pigs. Why is it so different here? Should it not be standard across the world? If every dental service in the world has got a certain standard: Why is B.C. less?”

The BCCDC requires N95 masks only for certain procedures and when treating “clients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.”

Burton isn’t necessarily endorsing plans for reopening in other provinces which include measures like three-hour cleaning breaks between appointments and building new isolation rooms.

“I would never say that B.C. should have gone to some of the extremes that some of the others did,” Burton says.

“But for our members, they’re seeing what everyone else is doing and saying, ‘Wait a second.'”

RELATED: Working safely amid pandemic a concern for some B.C. dental hygienists

In the absence of provincial requirements, hygienists who don’t think the guidelines go far enough when it comes to PPE are left to negotiate with their employers.

“With the lack of guidance it is being left up to the individual office to determine, and it depends entirely on the person who owns the business,” Burton explains, noting those business-owners are likely feeling the financial pressure exerted by lengthy closures.

Some members have told Burton their employers are postponing reopening until they are confident non-essential procedures can be done safely.

In other cases, businesses are opening up as soon as possible.

“We have others who have not had their employer even talk to them about what it’s supposed to look like, they’re just supposed to be there Tuesday. And of course, in Canada you can’t just not show up for your shift.”

The association is encouraging hygienists to talk to their employers about any concerns surrounding reopening.

“Please talk to your employer. If you’re not comfortable, if you see something that concerns you you need to have these conversations before you start work,” Burton urges.

Burton says the nature of the work done by hygienists means exposure to a virus transmitted by droplets is an ever-present risk.

“There is no way to do dental hygiene without your face being right beside someone else’s face,” Burton says.

“We are not allowing lifeguards on the beach for example because they do not have the proper PPE and yet someone who is six inches from your face can work with a paper mask. Why are we not requiring the best of PPE if we’re going to be that close to someone’s face?”

Burton says some dental hygienists are so concerned, they’re going to retire or look for another career.

“The point is not that dental hygienists don’t want to go back to work, because they do. They just want to make sure they’re safe, they want to make sure that the public is safe. And they’re not very confident in that.”

When the guidelines were posted on the association’s Facebook page, a flood of comments described them as “vague,” “disappointing,” and “not good enough.”