By Dr. Kami Hoss
I have owned a company for more than 20 years, and I have more than 250 employees in the San Diego area. My business is pediatric dentistry and orthodontics, and I want to help small-to-medium-sized operators of all stripes keep their employees safe during the months ahead before COVID-19 vaccines are widely distributed.
Dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants are some of the most high-risk professions for contracting COVID-19, yet my offices are currently operational—even as cases surge. There are many reasons why I’ve chosen to stay open, and why I feel strongly that I’m doing the right thing. Historically, dentists are leaders in handling infectious diseases, dating back to the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS crisis. With this latest pandemic, we’ve stepped up our safety protocols even more. Many of my employees spend hours inches away from patients’ mouths, with the understanding that the novel coronavirus is transmitted through saliva.
Yet to date, none of my employees or patients, fortunately, have contracted the virus from our offices. Let me share with you what steps we’ve implemented, in addition to the standard handwashing, social distancing and PPE, that could help your employees stave off the coronavirus too.
Encourage them to rinse
The dental profession has been using this simple trick for a while now. Rinsing your mouth for 30 seconds with mouthwash, such as Listerine, can temporarily minimize the transmission rates of common colds by reducing the viral infectivity to undetectable levels for a period of time. And now there is mounting preliminary evidence that this exercise may also reduce transmission against the COVID-19 virus.
As a standard protocol, I have all my patients rinse with mouthwash before sitting down in the dental chair. My employees periodically do the same thing throughout the day.
Promote Vitamin D usage
A handful of studies have recently emerged linking higher levels of Vitamin D with reduced symptoms and mortality rates of COVID-19. For example, scientists in Spain found that COVID-19 patients who received prescription Vitamin D had fewer ICU stays than patients who did not receive the supplement. Scientists in the U.S. had a similar outcome. Due to such compelling evidence, free Vitamin D supplements are being handed out to millions of at-risk patients in the United Kingdom.
While I can’t force my employees to take Vitamin D, at the very least, I’ve encouraged 15-20-minute walking breaks for us to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Even this can make a difference.
Get routine dental check-ups
While this may sound a little too coincidental, the connection between oral health and COVID-19 complications are quite astounding. When you don’t take good care of your mouth, you’re likely to experience bleeding, swollen gums, which is a symptom of gum disease and means your mouth is infected with oral bacteria.
These microscopic bugs release a harmful protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is an inflammatory cytokine that can trigger the immune system to go haywire, attacking major organs and shutting them down. This condition is called a cytokine storm. New research that analyzed hospitalized COVID-19 patients with elevated levels of IL-6 found the likelihood of suffering respiratory failure and/or requiring ventilation is significantly higher.
This is one of the reasons I encourage every one of my employees to keep up their overall health (which includes oral health!) especially now. While you may think it’s counterintuitive to allow employees to take time off in the middle of the day for non-emergency appointments, it will benefit them (and your business) in the long run by having fewer collective sick days.
Altogether, these tips can do a lot for business owners who aim to keep their staffers safe and productive. Make sure your HR department treats these subjects like headlines rather than footnotes as your company works its way through the rest of the pandemic.