Let me start by saying that I hope you and your family are well and that you are taking appropriate safeguards to stay healthy. This experience is one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life, and it has changed the way I think and act. I wish the best for each one of you, and I hope you are staying healthy.
I became a private practitioner in 1996, 24 years ago! I do not know how many patients I have treated over the years, but I have treated every one of you as a family member and have tried to provide care as I would want to receive. This has been simple since many of you I consider to be friends. It will not be easy to practice social distancing as you return to my office, but that is what we must do as we move forward.
We are in a new phase. We have been bombarded with information, often conflicting and nearly always confusing. I can remember a similar time, back in the early '80s, when a strange new disease emerged. At the time, I was studying dentistry at UT and working in an immunology research lab across the street at Baylor College of Medicine. As the AIDS pandemic spread, we were fraught with conflicting guidelines, confusion and fear. In 1983, I was the first in the world to publish that an oral disease was an early indication of HIV infection, and throughout the decade, as further research about the disease emerged, we were able to develop protocols and approaches to protect our patients and ourselves. In fact, many of the safeguards that we use today in the dental office to minimize the risks of infectious diseases came about as a result of the knowledge that we gained during that time.
When you return to the office, we will be implementing new policies and practices to protect you. It will be important to minimize your contact with the staff and other patients, and we ask that you respect our policies and acknowledge that social distancing will be a key to preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus. We know that the coronavirus can be spread with coughing, sneezing and apparently singing, and hand washing will remain a critical preventative measure.
To minimize risk of infection, we have placed sneeze guards in the reception area like what we have seen in retail businesses. We are disinfecting all common area surfaces multiple times during the day. We are minimizing use of devices that generate aerosols and are using enhanced suction to better control aerosols if they are generated. We have incorporated high-quality HEPA air purifiers that complete room filtration every 4 minutes in all treatment rooms. I am continuing to network with other dentists and healthcare providers to identify effective ways to mitigate our risks.
During this crisis, our office has remained open for seeing patients with emergencies. In some cases, these were patients who developed new problems. In other cases, these were patients who had treatment needs that they did not address in a timely fashion and progressed to cause pain. Infection associated with your teeth and gums is progressive and accordingly the passage of time only means more damage. Replacing missing teeth is likewise important for function and prevention of damage to other existing teeth. Postponing treatment typically has a significant impact on final outcomes, so we want to make sure we are safely open and available to help you.
We are only seeing emergency patients until May 1, by order of the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners. Starting May 1, we will be able to resume seeing patients for routine care. I encourage you to call the office regarding any of your questions. No one knows the future of this pandemic, and I have concerns that we will see a strong resurgence of the virus in the fall. Right now, there are relatively few cases of COVID-19 in the Houston/Harris County area, so there is a relatively low risk of becoming infected. As the number of cases increases, however, so does the possibility of becoming infected.
I will close by invoking an abbreviated version of a traditional Jewish religious blessing: "Live long and prosper!" We do not have the remedies and tools of the Star Trek era, but we have knowledge that we can use to stay safe.
Until we meet again,