ST. LOUIS – Many St. Louis dentists gave up their protective equipment when the pandemic started. They donated it to doctors, nurses, and nursing home staff who needed it urgently.
The same dentists who gave up their critical PPE supply are now faced with prices five times higher.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recently identified dentistry as high risk for possible spread of COVID-19. It’s not a surprise to dentists who say they’ve always been vulnerable to the spread of disease, partly because of what’s called “aerosolization” or spray that can hang in the air from using dental instruments like this.
When the pandemic began, dentists closed down and donated their supplies to the front lines. Now dentists are struggling to rebuild their own supplies.
“Right now, the prices are four to five times what we paid—pre-virus—for any of our equipment,” said Dr. Danielle Riordon, president-elect of the Greater St. Louis Dental Society.
Riordon was excited that her organization found a potential supply for her members – 120,000 KN95 masks.
“Unfortunately, when the order showed up on Friday, it was not what we had expected. It was not medical grade at all, and we have extremely high standards in dentistry, which is why the PPE was an easy solution initially to donate it because we use a lot of it.”
Meg Stagina, the executive director for the dental society, said they became concerned when the masks arrived in boxes labeled “non-medical.”
“There was a brand name we weren’t anticipating,” she said. “Two of our officers came up to the office and examined them and did fit tests. They did not properly seal. They tried them on a couple different faces.”
They’re getting a full refund on the $350,000 bill but dentists have few leads on quality supplies.
“We gave it when we needed to and now, unfortunately, we have this concern. That’s what I mean about it being absolutely heartbreaking,” Riordan said. “It was the right thing for our community and now unfortunately not being able to help (our member dentists) in return, it’s pretty devastating for us as a society because we know it was a big sacrifice.”
Dentists are still practicing safely – finding other ways to get proper protection. They have their own patients they want to keep out of hospitals.
“We know that dental disease is the number one disease among children and it also can lead to things like heart disease, respiratory problems, issues with diabetes; so left untreated, it could become a bigger issue,” Riordan said.
The Greater St. Louis Dental Society says the latest hope is that it can work with the American Dental Association on getting on a priority list with FEMA, but it sees the struggle to buy affordable protection will continue getting harder.