By Dulcy B. Hooper | Photos courtesy of Middleburg Smiles

For healthcare providers and patients alike, COVID-19 has catapulted the medical and dental world into a uniquely complex, challenging set of circumstances. Everyone involved has been scrambling to figure out how and when to safely move forward. 

As important as dental care is to one’s health and wellbeing, initial recommendations were focused on limiting dental care to urgent and emergency care only, with routine care put on the back burner. In view of those recommendations, Middleburg Smiles, the general and cosmetic dental practice of Dr. Robert A. Gallegos, limited its operations through May 1.

Part of the reasoning, according to Dr. Gallegos, was to reduce the practice’s use of personal protective equipment (PPE), so hospitals and first responders would not run short of equipment. In addition, by limiting care to emergency and urgent care only, this reduced the number of times people were out and about, thus limiting the possible spread of the virus.

As of May 5, however, Middleburg Smiles has moved from the “urgent and emergency care only” mandates to finding its new normal. “Dentistry is an essential service,” Dr. Gallegos said. “And similar to putting off medical care, there is a cost to delaying needed dental care.” 

To see patients on a regular basis again, Middleburg Smiles has “increased the frequency and thoroughness of sanitizing procedures and is adhering to all safety procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, and OSHA.” Dr. Gallegos and his team are using respirator face masks, face shields, and other PPE.

Dr. Gallegos said the “universal precautions” that the practice has been using for several years remain an effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. “With some minor modifications, preventing spread of this virus is not difficult,” he said. “Even before COVID-19, Middleburg Smiles followed strict infection control guidelines that would have prevented the transmission of COVID-19 or any other virus to our patients or our team.”  

Dentists and their team members are considered to be at a higher risk in this time of COVID-19, given their close physical proximity when treating patients. And unlike certain medical specialties for which telehealth can provide an option when person-to-person visits are not advisable, dental care is typically not a good match for care at a distance.

During the downtime in the earlier days of the pandemic, Dr. Gallegos and staff took the opportunity to participate in online team trainings and meetings, including webinars on how to best protect patients and team members while continuing to provide high quality care. The practice has sent notifications out to patients, acquainting them with new COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures.

“The main changes have to do with screening, distancing, sanitation, and PPE,” Dr. Gallegos said. “We pre-screen each patient remotely with health and travel questions and take their temperature as soon as they enter the office.” Now, rather than walking into the building, patients call from their car when they arrive. Patients do not sit in the reception area, and all magazines and beverage service have been removed. The office and common areas are sanitized frequently throughout the day.

“We are using respirator face masks and face shields and other PPE as part of our universal precautions, and we ask patients to wear a mask when entering and checking out from their visits,” he said. 

While the changes that Dr. Gallegos and staff have implemented have created an increase in overhead, they have determined not to add a PPE surcharge for these additional expenses. 

While dental practices and other businesses are reopening before COVID-19 is completely contained as a health threat, Dr. Gallegos is committed to doing so safely. 

“While this means that there will still be some fear about being infected by the virus, we always put the safety of our patients and team first,” he said.

Robert A. Gallegos, DDS, FAGD, has practiced dentistry and served in its professional organizations since graduating from Georgetown University School of Dentistry in 1984.

He is a visiting faculty member of the Scottsdale Center for Dentistry, an alumnus of and mentor at the L.D. Pankey Institute, a general member in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, a fellow in the American College of Dentists and the Academy of General Dentistry. He is also a member of the American Dental Association, the Virginia Dental Association, and the District of Columbia Dental Society. In addition, Dr. Gallegos is a past president and general chairman of the District of Columbia Dental Society.

Dr. Gallegos and his wife, Beth, have three children. They moved their home and dental practice from Washington, D.C., to Middleburg in 2001. Dr. Gallegos is active in his church, his children’s education, dental continuing education, golfing, and coaching youth sports. ML

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.