Dr. Lashunda Thompson, a Southaven dentist, has been working to keep her patients healthy — by temporarily closing her practice, iSmile Family Dentistry. She made the decision to close her office in late March, when the coronavirus pandemic created extra risks for her patients, her staff, her and her soon-to-be-born baby.
Far along in her pregnancy, Thompson’s doctor advised her to stop working. As infections continued to ravage DeSoto County, the risks were also elevated for two members of her staff who are immunocompromised.
“I wanted to protect me and my unborn child as well as my family,” Thompson said. “My doctor recommended that we close.”
The Center for Disease Control and American Dental Association advised in March that dentists close their practices for all but emergency procedures.
Thompson plans to reopen when she deems it safe, but to do so she faces a new challenge: finding enough personal protective equipment (PPE).
Thompson and her staff have always used certain types of PPE, such as masks, gloves and eyewear. Seeing a growing need, she donated all remaining protective equipment to local hospitals when she closed her practice.
“I knew that nurses and doctors were on the front line and there were shortages,” she said.
Now, more equipment will be needed to reopen her office, including extra disinfectants and sterilization materials. The staff would also need headgear, foot coverings and head-to-toe disposable gowns to reopen safely.
With an increased need for PPE across the globe — as well people not working in the medical field buying industry-grade masks and other gear — Thompson is finding it difficult to find the equipment she will need to reopen when the time comes.
“As I see things, I go ahead and order them,” she said, noting that some orders placed in March still have yet to arrive because of overwhelming backorder lists.
When she can find PPE to order, the prices are far higher than normal. A box of masks that once cost about $12 is now $20 or more, she said.
There is also a real risk to working as a dentist in a pandemic.Three dentists she knew personally have died from COVID-19.
“It’s scary. It’s sad,” Thompson said. “I felt a lot of different emotions [when learning of the three deaths]. Concern for myself and concern for my staff.”
Dentists are particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 because the instruments in their offices create a higher risk of the virus spreading through aerosols in the air, along with the close contact needed to do dental procedures.
“I love dentistry,” Thompson said. “The fact that I could lose my life doing what I love is sad.”
Thompson said she continues to get calls asking when they can come back to her practice, but she refers them to other open practices until she can reopen.
She is now looking into the recent push from the American Dental Association to allow dentists to test for COVID-19, hoping she can safely test patients.
Like much of the country, she now waits for a safe time to reopen. At home with her baby, who was born on May 19, she is determined to wait out the surges of infections.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said