Mandated COVID-19 testing before treatment will 'shut down' dentistry, Alaska dentist says

A state mandate in Alaska allows dentists to resume elective procedures only if patients test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of treatment, NPR and PBS affiliate Alaska Public Media reports.

Patients must have a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of a procedure that generates aerosols, which can carry the virus and are produced by many dental tools.

It's difficult for patients to get test results within 48 hours of an appointment, especially in rural Alaska, some dentists argue.

"What that means is, in your view, dentistry is just shut down indefinitely," David Nielson, DDS, president of the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners, told state Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, MD. Dr. Zink refuted the claim.

During a state meeting, Dr. Nielson argued that dentists can ensure patient safety with intense screening protocols and by following personal protective equipment requirements. He said waiting for test availability to increase to needed levels would jeopardize the oral health of the public. Dr. Zink said Alaska's testing capacity is increasing, and screening isn't always reliable because many COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic.

The dental board proposed new guidelines that would require screening and temperature checks for every patient. The proposal said if goggles or face shields aren't available, dentists should understand the risk and use professional judgment to determine whether to treat patients. This differs from CDC recommendations, which suggest both an N95 respirator and either goggles or a full face shield be used.

Dr. Zink said the state is open to working with the dental board to revise the mandate.

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