Dental practices reopen with precautions in place to keep patients safe

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Before entering the office of Dr. Shania Holman's in Chapel Hill, you'll notice there are plenty of steps taken to avoid coronavirus exposure. Patients are asked to check-in from the parking lot, using mobile devices.

"Dentists are (at) very high risk to transfer the coronavirus because we are generating aerosols in people's mouths during a lot of the procedures we do," said Dr. Holman.

Among her precautions: "Changing jackets between patients. We use washable gowns. We have a washer/dryer here, fortunately, which not all dental practices have. We have medical-grade HEPA filters in each room. They are continuously circulating the air. We have two doors. One's a check in door and a checkout door, so there's minimal chance of people overlapping, just running into each other between their appointments," she said.

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And inside, "We have sneeze guards installed to best protect our front office employees and everyone in the office, at all times, is wearing a face mask."

But the costs of that equipment and it's maintenance, including masks that provide more protection than the now-familiar N95 model, can add up for a dentist's practice.

And when Elizabeth Perez learned that her provider, Carolina Family Dentistry in Cary, would add extra fees to help cover the costs of PPE, she contacted ABC11.

She told us those out of pocket fees, $20 for each member of her family of four, would total more than $300 after routine visits for cleanings and orthodontic adjustments for her children.

"As a business owner, my husband owns a contracting company, we know that the costs have gone up," Perez said. "It is not cheap to buy N95 masks, but he has not passed the cost on to his customers and we don't feel that we as customers should get that charge either, in other places."

Perez had two dental providers under the same roof providing care for her family. She says after contacting both with her concerns, the one that treats her children agreed to waive those fees. But after hearing nothing from the other dentistry practice, she chose another one that does not pass those fees to its patients for herself and her husband.

Dr. Holman says insurance doesn't always bridge the gap between treatment and equipment costs.

"They may have a lot of contracts already with insurance companies, that result in them getting lower fees for their procedures," she said. "They might feel a bit of a crunch, so a lot of those practices may be adding $10 to $20 fees per appointment."

But she doesn't pass that cost to her patients.

"So in our practice, we are not adding fees. I do see patients who with Medicaid, but that kind of balances with patients who don't have Medicaid," said Dr. Holman. "Infection control's the most important thing here. How we're all structuring this as a business really depends upon contracts with insurance companies. Whether or not, we are seeing patients with Medicaid, whether or not, we're using PPEs that are washable or not."

We contacted the practice where the fees drove Ms. Perez away for a comment but received no response by press time. If we get one, we'll update this online report.
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