For the past year and a half, finding ways to re-invent how we do things has become something of a necessity. From full-time virtual school and work days, to online grocery shopping, people have had no choice but to adapt.
For dentist Dr Sati Ramnarine, adapting meant temporarily dealing with her patients through teledentistry – consulting with patients over the phone.
“Sometimes it may require a video call, depending on if I need to see something in the patient’s mouth,” Ramnarine told WMN.
But, she said, although it is convenient, there is only so much that can be done with a tele-consult.
“With dentistry, a lot of it is about being physically able to diagnose properly. The call is usually just a lead up to treatment or for a procedure,” as things like cleaning, putting in a filling or doing a root canal requires in-person interaction.
Ramnarine, 37, is the holder of a doctor of dental surgery degree from the UWI, and has had 13 years of experience in dentistry.
“It’s an amazing profession. You get the opportunity to boost confidence, to see people smile. A lot of it is about job and personal satisfaction.”
Three years ago, she started her own practice – DentaCare, a one-chair dental office in Chaguanas. She said the relatively new business took a major hit with the imposition of the restrictions because of the covid19 epidemic. The virus was new, she said, and people were scared and had concerns about coming to the office, even in emergency cases.
“During the initial lockdown, we weren’t allowed to do elective procedures and there was limited face-to-face access. That was when we started doing teledentistry. Now, she said, with more information about covid19 and the ongoing vaccination drive, people are more comfortable coming to sit in her chair… And yes, it did hurt the business financially although we always maintained that contact through teledentistry with all our patients," she said.
Ramnarine believes her field of work is one that makes the transmission of covid19 very easy.
“The medical field is, if not, one of the most sterilised surroundings people will find. However, we have had a lot of concerns. The dental environment is a unique environment, where people are always going to be exposed to aerosols or droplets. Saliva and blood from a patient's mouth exposes you to viruses and transmissions.
“We have to be extra careful because we are always in someone’s mouth. Before, I wouldn’t have worn gowns for every procedure. Now I do because I have to be careful with the splashes of saliva and blood.”
She said as a dentist, she has always worn masks when attending to patients, even pre-covid. Now, she takes extra precaution and wears full personal protective equipment (PPE) gear – N95 masks and surgical gowns, as recommended by the WHO.
She said in the early stages of the pandemic she was really nervous and she and her staff took a decision to stay away from routine and elective dental care, only accepting emergency cases. The lack of knowledge about the virus had brought about uncertainty and created a level of fear among members of the dental fraternity. So much so that it took a mental toll on many practitioners, “having to deal with the everyday anxiety, couple with the stress in getting into PPE during the first two months of the lockdown in 2020.”
But, she said, she and her staff had made good use of the downtime by educating themselves on the virus and heeding the advice of the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. She has also spent a lot of time attending webinars and doing online courses to upgrade her skills.
Earlier this month, Ramnarine and her team were able to re-open the office and business is even better.
DentaCare has extended its working hours and is open on Sundays to facilitate the spacing out of appointment times and to accommodate people who can’t make it during the week. Ramnarine said this additional day helps to manage the flow of patients. Additionally, she said, none of her staff has been laid off.
"As a matter of fact, we've had to hire additional staff to accommodate the later closing hours as well as the weekends, and I have hired an associate to help me out. There were no salary cuts either," she said.
“Now we are practising as normal. Cleanings, fillings, routine procedures, with all safety protocols observed, off course. It’s getting better.”
"We have added air-purifiers, sanitising machines among other basic PPEs to help keep medical space sanitised."
Walk-ins have been limited to lower the possible risks of transmission, and she is operating, as much as possible, strictly by appointment. Patients, upon entering the office, must follow standard covid19 screening procedures.
“We also have certain protocol in place now that require some people to wait in their cars in order to avoid too many people in the waiting area.”
DentaCare, she said, is focussing on getting scheduling back on track, and she sees growth in its future.
“We have room for a second chair, and that should come soon.”
And once thing settle down, Ramnarine plans to get back to some familiar habits.
“I read a lot. All kinds of books…I journal, a little less than I should because not much is happening. I used to work out a lot before the pandemic…Travelling used to be a big part of my life, but for more than a year it hasn’t happened. I’m thinking London. London is always fun and it is open.”