Pediatric dentist cautiously reopens practice

Dr. Albert returns to seeing patients after pandemic closes office for two months

Series: Flattening the curve | Story 11

Mira Albert's pediatric dental practice was preparing to close its doors even before the world shut down due to COVID-19.

"By March 15 I realized we just needed to not be seeing patients anymore," Albert said. She said she closed the practice not only to protect her staff and patients, but also to conserve valuable personal protection equipment for those directly fighting the pandemic.

So while businesses around her were proceeding as usual, she and her fellow doctors and staff at Brush in Hinsdale began preparations for an extended closure.

In the months that followed, Albert and her team saw only a few patients in need of urgent attention. Although her practice was allowed to remain open as an essential service, Albert decided most dental procedures could wait while the virus spread.

But that doesn't mean she left her patients without a place to turn for help with dental needs and concerns.

Through email, Albert ensured her patients that although the practice was essentially closed, she was available to address any oral health problems that might come up.

"We triaged over the phone," she said.

She and her staff offered teledentistry visits, referring people to specialists when necessary, and she saw a few urgent cases herself.

She also used email to remind her young patients of the importance of proper dental care.

"I started to worry," Albert said, as she saw her own two sons making frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks throughout the day. As a reminder to them and all of her patients, Albert videotaped her son reading the book "Sugar Bugs," by Dr. Sam and Erica Weisz, and emailed the recording to her patients.

"We've used it for years to educate children," she said. As she quarantined at home, sharing the book became a fun family activity and a reminder to her own children to keep brushing and flossing.

Nearly two months after shutting down, the Brush team returned to the office May 11 to begin preparations for a return to business. Everything was cleaned, top to bottom, and changes were made to allow for physical distancing. Anything unnecessary to the practice of dentistry was removed to allow for easy cleaning, said Albert, who said she feels a great responsibility to protect her staff and patients.

"We got down to the pens," she said. One jar holds sanitized pens and the

other holds used ones.

Albert estimates thousands of patient visits were missed over the last 2 1/2 months. She and her staff, including the three other doctors in the practice, are working hard to prioritize those patients while preparing to provide everyone with the care they need.

She began seeing the most urgent cases on May 17. After a few weeks of long hours, the practice began providing routine checkups again.

"Our transition back has been far from normal," Albert said. Everyone who enters the practice is required to wear a mask, and all staff are wearing masks and glasses, so as not to touch their eyes. Everyone working with patients wears a mask, face shield and gown.

"We're monitoring the team for any signs of illness," Albert said, and taking the temperatures of everyone as they arrive and leave.

Albert said she is impressed with how her young patients have adjusted to what, at least for now, is the new normal.

"We all need to take a page out of the kids' playbook," she said. They don't complain about wearing the masks and no one has expressed fear or unease at people leaning over their mouths wearing an abundance of PPE.

While Brush is back in business, Albert said it will be a while before things return to what most regard as normal. With social distancing and extra cleaning measures, Brush has had to cut back on the number of patients on their daily schedule. That means patients will likely have to wait longer for an appointment.

"People have been really kind and understanding," Albert said.

They've also been supportive. A colleague in Texas recently sent her a box of masks. Albert returned the favor by answering another pediatric dentist's call for small N95 masks.

"Pediatric dentists are just a different breed," she said. "We're all in this together."

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean