A Letter to Governor Gary Herbert from the Utah Dental Hygienists' Association

The Honorable Gary Herbert

350 North State Street, Suite 200

PO Box 142220

Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

The Honorable Governor Herbert:

I am writing on behalf of the Utah Dental Hygienists’ Association (UDHA) and the 3,535 hygienists licensed to practice in the state of Utah. We are asking you to prevent dental professionals from beginning elective treatment if proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the dental provider is not in available.

First, we thank you for the hard work and many difficult decisions you are making on behalf of the people of Utah. We understand this is a difficult time for many people. The most current directive you made has people staying at home until May 1st. We believe this is wise, and yet certainly would like to see things get back to “normal” as quickly as possible. In light of this unknown and serious virus, we as hygienists realize that our new normal will not be the same as our old normal and are concerned about having the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to do our job safely while not taking away from the frontline healthcare providers in our state and across the country.

The OSHA has made the following statement:

Very High Exposure Risk Jobs with a very high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. Workers in this category include: Healthcare workers (e.g., doctors, nurses, dentists (and dental hygienists), paramedics, emergency medical technicians) performing aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., intubation, cough induction procedures, bronchoscopies, some dental procedures and exams, or invasive specimen collection) on known or suspected COVID-19 patients.

Healthcare facilities are responsible for protecting their Health Care Personnel (HCP) from

exposure to pathogens, including by providing appropriate PPE.

Risk factors for worker exposure to SARS-CoV-2 include:

  • Job duties involving close (within 6 feet) contact with infected people or other sources of the virus. This includes close contact with patients in healthcare and coworkers, customers, and/or members of the general public in almost all sectors.

Nearly every procedure a dental hygienist (and dentist) performs creates aerosols. We barely have 6”, let alone 6’. Many dentists are anxious to get back to work, as are we. However, there is great concern that the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will not be available or provided for the hygienists or assistants. Concerns also exist about aerosols created and time between patients coming into the office.

The American Dental Association (ADA) has issued their dentist members interim mask and face shield guidance which breaks down the different types of mask and levels of risk for the Dental Health Care Personnel (DHCP). While N95 or equivalent along with goggles or face shield represents the lowest risk to providers, their guidance also states these may not be available and to just use their best judgement.

As a dental hygiene association, we have already been contacted by numerous hygienists in our state who are being asked to return to work with substandard PPE, hygienists who are buying their own N95s off the streets, another who is immunocompromised and being asked to return to work with absolutely no changes to office protocols from business as usual before the Pandemic.

Hygienists are the only profession who are governed by another profession, leaving us without the autonomy to decide for ourselves what is a safe work environment. Without dentists being REQUIRED to provide appropriate PPE, many hygienists are left having to choose between their health and their employability.

As much as we want to get back to “normalcy” and return to our patients, we want to ensure standards are in place and available to protect not only dental professionals and staff, but our patients as well. Please help us to be able to SAFELY return to work when appropriate.

Kathleen Young, Utah Dental Hygienists’ Association President

The Utah Dental Hygienists’ Association Board of Trustees