Let me tell you about a young teenager who was driving home one day.  He tried to be as safe as possible, leaving well before rush hour.  He drove defensively as taught.  When coming within a few freeway exits of home, he started changing lanes to eventually get off a few miles ahead.  There were only a few dozen cars in sight on the entire 5 lane freeway.  While changing from one lane to the next, the car behind did not want this teenager in his lane and sped up, clipping the teenager at 70 miles an hour, and sending him off spinning into the center median.  Upon impact the car flipped 180 degrees, landed on the back corner, completely sheering off the rear passenger tire.  The car ends up facing oncoming traffic when it reaches a halt.

Thankfully, the teen survives the incident, but with a totaled car to say the least.   The car was an ‘89 Oldsmobile, which was built out of almost pure steel and as heavy as a tank.  There could have also been other entities involved with protecting this teen that day.

Now, this teenager could have sworn off driving completely.  He could have looked at the statistics that 1 million people a year die in car accidents.   He could have let fear take over his life and therefore missed so many other opportunities that popped up in the 20 years since. 

Instead, this teenager went on to become a dentist and devote his life to helping others.  He learned to understand that all aspects of life come with risk.  We take a risk every time we get into a car to drive.  We take a risk every time we go to the office and treat patients.  We take a risk every time we hop on a plane to fly.  We take a risk in almost everything we do.

Life is all about balancing the risks with the potential opportunities or rewards. There are very few things in life that don’t come with some type of risk, whether that is driving a car, flying in a plane, or working in healthcare.

Current aspects of the coronavirus bring on new risks we are not used to balancing.  They cause us to all re-evaluate our opportunities in life and what the change in risks mean for us.  This can often lead to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of those risks we have never faced.  Fear that we might need to re-evaluate prior choices.

The best part about dentistry is we have been equipped and trained for decades in the best infection control outside of a hospital OR.  All you have to do is look at any other healthcare facility to understand that dental offices are exponentially more prepared than anyone else in healthcare with infection control.  This is why dentistry has never been a source of respiratory infection or other viral spread: SARS, influenza, H1N1, Ebola, other coronaviruses, etc.  And even during Covid-19 many dentists have been treating emergency patients for months with no spread either.  We may be the most exposed profession because of proximity and procedures, but exposure does not mean chance of infection because of our levels of infection control.

Many great hygienists and dentists want to go back to treating their patients; to taking care of the oral disease that has so many connections with overall health.  They are choosing to decide that the reason we got into dentistry to help people is still the reward that is worth the risk.  These providers should be respected for agreeing to manage the risk that comes with providing that care.

Some in dentistry may choose to not take on this new risk and decide to pick another career.  Regardless if the reason is family at home, medical concerns, or just deciding the balance is no longer in their favor; that is their choice to be respected as well.

The challenge is that some in the profession have begun to attack others for their choices.  They have chosen to attack the very dentists and hygienists they used to call colleagues.    They have chosen to publicly slander the profession with claims that have no evidence.

This virus is here to stay.  There are no cures or vaccines coming this year.  The risks are what they are and aren’t changing.

What we should all remember is life is about balance and everyone is going to weigh the risks differently.  If we choose that the risk vs reward is not acceptable anymore, then changing careers or just waiting silently are perfectly acceptable choices.

If you are unsure what to do, this article may help you see all the aspects and help you with forming your decision:  https://practicewhisper.com/hygienists-vs-dentists-take-a-step-back-instead/

Those team members who are in offices that are not communicating or not managing the risks, it may be time to search for a new office.  The good news is that many dentists are doing the best they can with the circumstances and supplies available.  There are also plenty of offices right now looking for good team members and now may be the best time for a change. 

Those who chose to face the risks, to find a balance in life, should be celebrated.  Not slandered.  Let us all come together and support each other, regardless if that individual’s decision is to go back to work, silently wait, change offices or change careers. 

For this provider, who used to be that teenager long ago, I chose to accept whatever new risk we now face.  I am thankful that dentistry has a history of never being the source of respiratory spread.  Even so, we have still implemented new precautions based on team concerns and local factors.

Our profession is essential and has been pushed aside long enough.

Whatever you decide, as long as you weigh the risks then all blessings to you for your decision.  Just please make sure to respect the decisions of others, respect the profession, and avoid attacking others or the profession in the process.