June 4, 2020

Important Update for Patients

To our valued School of Dentistry patients:

We continue to see encouraging signs of progress against the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington. While we had to restrict our services to urgent care during the outbreak, we are now in the process of welcoming you back to our clinics for regular care.

How quickly this proceeds depends on our state’s phased reintroduction of services and continued progress in containing the spread of the virus. However, we have now resumed full clinical services in our Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, and Orthodontics clinics. We have also begun limited treatment in other graduate and resident specialty clinics such as Endodontics (root canals), Periodontics (gum treatment), Graduate Prosthodontics (dentures and bridges), and at The Center for Pediatric Dentistry on our Sand Point campus. Depending on the treatment that is needed, patients may have to be tested for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before their appointment.

The Northwest Center for Oral and Facial Surgery, at our Sand Point campus, has resumed full patient services. We will continue the gradual resumption of all clinical services to full capacity on June 22. Our Dental Student Teaching Clinics are included in this plan, although their capacity may depend on staffing and other factors.

Patients who have been waiting for delivery of crowns, bridges, and partial or full dentures are being contacted regarding delivery. We will contact our other patients starting in mid-to late-June.

We regret that we cannot welcome new patients into our Dental Student Teaching Clinics yet, but all other clinics are accepting new patients. Please call 206-616-6996 for an appointment.

For our current patients waiting for treatment in one of our teaching clinics, this is especially important: Please wait for your provider to contact you about resuming your treatment. We will be operating with reduced staffing for a while as we prepare for your return, and we will not be able to respond to questions about scheduling. Also, our full clinical services in our teaching clinics cannot immediately operate at peak capacity starting on June 22. Instead, we will ramp up these services over time to make sure that we are delivering care in the safest way we can.

All of us at the School of Dentistry greatly regret that the pandemic forced us to postpone everything except urgent care, which we have continued to provide. We had to put off regular care for your safety, but we know that this has not just been inconvenient – it has been a hardship for many of you. Your oral health is our most important concern, and we are eager to have you back for your dental care so we can continue to protect your health.

We also know that for many of you – our DECOD clinic patients, our Medicaid patients, and others – your choices for care may be very limited. We play a major role in our state’s oral health safety net, and we take that role very seriously.

When we resume regular dental visits, you will see some differences, especially in our Dental Student Teaching Clinics. We are installing tall plexiglass dividers between each operatory – the cubicle where treatment takes place. One of our big concerns is the spread of aerosols – the tiny droplets that can be produced during treatment. These droplets can potentially spread viruses, and the new dividers will help control this. In addition, we are testing patients before performing any procedure that will produce aerosols, and we are installing new air purifiers that clean and filter the air with high efficiency.

We will also close off every other operatory in a checkerboard pattern so that no patient will be sitting next to or across from another one. Our clinical faculty, staff, and students will undergo daily COVID-19 screenings, and patients will be asked screening questions before and after their treatment.

We have a lot of catching up to do. To increase our efficiency and add another layer of protection, we have also created a new Virtual Clinic. This video platform lets one of our providers talk with you by computer, tablet, or smartphone for your initial consultation. We can usually determine a course of treatment with this “virtual visit,” and in some cases, you may not even need to make an in-person visit afterward. Your privacy and rights will be protected, and your video and voice will not be recorded or stored.

We have been using the Virtual Clinic to support our urgent care during the outbreak, and we already know that our colleagues at UW Medicine have been using this telehealth technology with great success for some time. And to further reduce wait times for treatment, we are also studying the possibility of offering extended clinic hours, including Saturdays.

This has been a difficult and frustrating time for all of us. Now we are anticipating the day when we can once again deliver the full range of dental care by our students, faculty, and graduate residents, and welcome you back to our clinics under the safest possible conditions.

In the meantime, please know that you can still rely on us if you need urgent care. You can call us at 206-543-5850 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, if you are an existing patient, please call 206-616-6996. If you have a serious problem with an injury, pain, or infection that demands immediate attention, you can call the University of Washington emergency department at 206-598-4000.

Thank you for your patience, and we look forward to seeing you!

A note about fees

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UW School of Dentistry, like all health care practices, has increased its infection control measures to continue protecting the health and safety of our patients, faculty, students, and staff.  This has included increasing our use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves, higher-level protective face masks, and even face shields when aerosols (mist or vapor) are produced during patient treatment.  New types of PPE are being used in some cases and they are often quite expensive.

As demand for these items has increased, so has their cost, which our standard rates do not cover.  Consequently, this requires us to add a separate PPE charge of $20 for each patient visit.  This fee is covered by some insurance plans, so please check with your insurance company about coverage of this fee.

Protecting the health and safety of our patients and the providers and assistants who participate in their care is the priority that guides all of our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We regret having to impose this additional cost, but we hope you will understand why we must do so.

Frequently asked questions for patients

If I have an appointment for urgent or emergency care at the School of Dentistry, who can come with me?

Only certified interpreters, parents, guardians, and other necessary adult support people are welcome to accompany our patients to appointments. They must remain in the waiting area unless their presence in the treatment room is required for treatment. Any other people, including children, may NOT accompany the patient to their appointment. You must honor social distancing recommendations and remain 6 feet from others in hallways and reception areas, and during social interactions. Depending on how many people are in the waiting area, you and your support person may be asked to wait in another area or outside. You both must pass the School of Dentistry COVID-19 screening procedure on arrival. Additional screening may continue later. Screening by UW Medical Center security staff is not sufficient for entry to any dental clinic.

Please note carefully: Patients may be accompanied into the actual treatment area by another person or service animal ONLY if they are essential for completion of the dental treatment. An accompanying person must first pass all our screening for COVID-19, including the absence of any fever over 100 degrees F. This screening must be done by School of Dentistry personnel. Screening by UW Medical Center security staff is not sufficient.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 are flu-like and include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, or a sudden loss of the sense of smell or taste. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people may develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia.

People at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection include:

  • People who are age 65 or older
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who have weakened immune systems (This can be due to cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune-weakening medications)
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease
  • People who are pregnant

What do I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have a cough, fever, or other respiratory problems, call and speak with your health care provider before going to a medical facility. Do not go to an emergency room. If you believe you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, call 9-1-1.

If you do feel ill, don’t panic. Most people who get the novel coronavirus disease have only minor symptoms and do not need medical care. In fact, most people with symptoms who are tested for COVID-19 have a negative test. Their symptoms are most likely due to influenza or seasonal allergies. However, you should contact your doctor to inform them of your symptoms and get advice.

If you have a mild case, your doctor may advise you to treat your symptoms at home. Staying home also helps prevent you from exposing other people to the disease.

For those who have a more serious case, call before you head to the urgent care or emergency room. That will help the medical team to prepare for your arrival, so you can receive the fastest and best possible care. It will also help them to protect other people from your infection.

Should I be tested for COVID-19?

If you are in King County and believe you were exposed to COVID-19, contact the Public Health – Seattle and King County call center between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 206-477-3977. Testing is generally conducted at a health care provider’s office, and Public Health – Seattle & King County recommends that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms be tested. UW Medical Center has expanded testing and is currently one of highest-volume testing sites in the nation. Limitations remain in laboratory capacity to obtain samples and process lab results promptly. Commercial testing is becoming more available. Health care providers may test any patient in whom they suspect COVID-19.

While there are no restrictions on who can get tested, not everybody who feels ill needs to be tested, particularly if you have mild illness. If you are sick with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, and are in a high-risk group, call your health care provider to discuss whether you should be tested for COVID-19.

What should I do to keep myself and those close to me safe?

The most important steps to take are the same as for every cold and flu season: Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water. If you cannot wash, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If it is ethanol-based, the ethanol content should be more than 60 percent. (If it is isopropyl alcohol-based, the content should be more than 70 percent.) Stay home if you are feeling ill. If you experience symptoms, call your doctor’s office. They will help you determine if you need to be seen and provide you with instructions for seeking medical care.

Public Health — Seattle & King County also recommends that EVERYONE in the Seattle area should stay home if possible and avoid groups of people, including public places and gatherings where there will be close contact with others. This is called “social distancing” and means that in any group, you would never be closer than 6 feet from any other person. This not only protects individuals from disease, it also slows the spread of disease in our community to make it less likely that our hospitals will become overwhelmed with large numbers of people with severe COVID-19 infection. Wearing a cloth mask in public, along with social distancing, also helps prevent the spread of the disease.

Where can I learn more about COVID-19?

For more information on COVID-19, visit Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.