Karachi: With the collaboration of Dental News Pakistan, MIMS Bangladesh and Dental Practice India recently held first of its kind, South Asian dental conference. The theme of the conference was ‘New Normal in Dentistry: South Asian Perspective’. The virtual conference was organised for the dental community going through a pandemic situation. The free conference attracted over 22,000 viewers on a global level and featured 10 state-of-the-art sessions conducted virtually through a digital platform.
The event was held on 22nd August 2020, with which was seen by more than 17000 people. The celestial speakers included respected dental professionals and dental academicians of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Srilanka.
The online dental summit speakers included Dr Neil Pande, Nepal, Dr Rita Singh, Nepal, Prof. Dr V. Gopi Krishna, India, Dr Gurkeerat Singh, India, Dr Suresh Shanmuganathan, Srilanka, Dr Irfan Qureshi, Pakistan, Prof. Dr Ayyaz Ali Khan, Pakistan, Prof. Dr Asad uz Zaman, Bangladesh, Dr S M Anwar Sadat, Bangladesh and Dr A Kumarswamy, India.
The event moderated by Dr Puneet Batra, highlighted the challenges faced by oral health professionals, dental associations and regulatory bodies to continue provision of dental care and promotion of oral health, while also protecting patients and practitioners from the health threat posed by SARS-CoV-2 in the region of South Asia.
While speaking live from Pakistan, Dr Irfan Qureshi, Diplomat Implant Dentistry, Royal College of Surgeon (RCS) Edinburgh shared his perspective on curbing the spread of COVID-19 in dental practices. He said, “COVID-19 has taught us to evolve and this situation of the pandemic has forced us to think outside the box and work for the survival by staying one step ahead.
“In times of pandemic, the decay of humanity and loss of morality was on display. The way dental suppliers and vendors were selling sanitiser, masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at exorbitant prices; exploiting the situation was heartbreaking and needs to be addressed,” Dr Irfan further said.
Dr Irfan also spoke about the emotional and psychological health of dentists during the lockdown. He said, “Dentistry is a difficult profession. There is a high prevalence of stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among dentists and COVID-19 made the situation worse. The dental community should come together on this subject and through counselling, meditation, workload management and support group can help each other.”
Renowned Indian Endodontist and Founder Director, Root Canal Foundation, Dr V. Gopi Krishna shed light on the need to change the approach to minimal aerosol dentistry. He said, “Globally dentistry has not been recognised as a cluster for COVID-19 cases and dental practices cannot be the source of COVID-19 transmission. However, patients coming to dental clinics can still bring disease with them as South Asia has been regarded as the third largest cluster for COVID-19 cases on Earth. Hence, aerosol-generating procedures should be done with precautions. Patients should be dealt through telephonic triage of advise, analgesic and antibiotics.”
“Consider every patient as an asymptomatic carrier. It is better to space your appointment and avoid walk-in patients. The focus should be to save ourselves and our dental team,” Dr Gopi told.
Speaking about COVID-19 testing protocols and effectiveness, Dr Gopi told, “In India, initially people were opting for antibody testing as it was fast and economical as compared to other testing options. However, antibody testing is not reliable and has high false-negative probability and can never help in the detection of the virus. As dentists, we need to go for viral testing ie RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription- Polymerase Chain Reaction).”
Dynamic dental practitioner and the leading face of dentistry in Nepal, Dr Neil Pande shared clinical protocols to follow during COVID-19 and changes in clinical practice. He said, “My main aim to focus during COVID-19 pandemic was to manage aerosol spread in the clinic and create separate rooms for donning and doffing. I also made sure that the reception of the clinic was distant from the clinical area. These steps were intended to make myself and my staff feel safer.”
Dr Neil showed a video presentation depicting the significant changes he made in his clinic to protect from COVID-19. He said, “An external high volume extraction device may reduce aerosol particulate count during dental procedures. Hence I suggest investing in this technology will be a good idea. Our enemy is aerosol and we cannot let it enter inside our system.”
While speaking live from Bangladesh, Dr S. M. Anwar Sadat, Associate Professor, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Dhaka Dental College shared his perspective on clinical management and role of thermal guns, pulse oximeters, rubber dams. He told, “The SARS-CoV-2 and other communicable viruses have always posed a high risk to dental health professionals. Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs) form aerosol that contains bacteria, fungi and virus. Hence, dentists who treat patients using AGPs are at risk of being affected if the patient is infected with COVID-19.”
Dr Anwar further said, “Dental professionals in many countries have stopped the practice because of fear of spreading COVID-19. This brings a significant impact on the financial aspect of the dental community. It has also left many patients midway through dental procedures. Hence, the implementation of several technologies and equipment can protect dental healthcare providers and patients from aerosol infection. Dentists should prepare themselves with adequate manpower, logistics and efficient in utilisation of resources.”
Reputed Implantologist from Nepal and Vice-President of Nepalese Society of Implant Dentistry, Dr Rita Singh expressed her views regarding effective patient communication during the pandemic. She said, “Dental professionals need to have a pro-active approach in such times. They need to be sensitive to the emerging concerns of the patient to overcome this period. We need to listen attentively to our patients and understand their thoughts. The best way is to put an extra effort to become more empathic.”
Dr Rita highlighted the importance of teledentistry. She said, “The utilisation of teledentistry especially during a pandemic, can be a good opportunity to limit the spread of COVID-19. It also allows dentists to develop a good rapport with their patients. Dental professionals can interact with patients via video calls and discuss their problems more interactively. This can be done by focusing on a better selection of words and an adequate tone when communicating with patients. Communication is extremely challenging now, but we need to have heightened attention to our behaviour.”
Dr Gurkeerat Singh, eminent Orthodontist of India and Head of Department of Orthodontics and Dento-Facial Orthopaedics, Sudha Rustagai College of Dental Sciences and Research, Haryana highlighted the economic impact on the dental industry and ways to combat it. He said, “COVID-19 has affected the young dental professionals the most as compared to the established ones and those who want to keep their practice running need to adapt the changes.”
Talking about caseload management Dr Gurkeerat said, “This is the high time to invest. If you can invest funds, then there are good deal available. But my mantra is to save your investment as much as possible. Many dental practitioners are reducing caseloads by increasing the cost of procedures, which cannot be generalised and depends on individual preferences. However, decreasing the number of patients can enable dentists to streamline protocols and increase the efficiency of the practice.”
Srilanka’s famous Oral Maxillofacial consultant, Dr Suresh Shanmuganathan put the spotlight on the digitization of dentistry. He said, “Digital dentistry can have an initial learning curve, but once master the techniques can enable dentists to work faster and manage patients more efficiently. The investment made on software can turn out to be more profitable if used smartly. Digital dentistry can also help dentists to educate patients regarding oral health and procedures. Dental professionals should be more open to accept the change and make way for new-normal.”
Dr Suresh further added, “Dental management system has been now used more religiously to process and combine data about patients. This can reduce the workload and make patient-dentist communication more smooth. Though tele/video dentistry has its role within certain limits, bearing in mind the legal implications.”
Prof. Dr Asad Uz Zama, Bangladesh’s distinguished dental academician and Vice-Principal, Sapporo Dental College, Dhaka, highlighted guidelines for dental colleges to follow during COVID-19. He said,” The COVID-19 pandemic generates unprecedented challenges for the delivery of education to dental students. This develops a need for innovative teaching and assessment methods to prevent disruption to course progression. Hence new and evolved methods on virtual classes for clinical and non-clinical lectures should opt by faculty members.”
Discussing the safety of dental staffs, students and faculties, Dr Asad said, “It must ensure that everyone is wearing the mask and good quality PPE are provided to doctors and staff. A biosafety committee should be made to monitor and maintain preventive measures.”
While speaking live from Pakistan, Prof. Dr Ayyaz Ali Khan Irfan Qureshi, Member faculty of General Practitioners, UK Fellow Royal Society of Heath and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Pakistan Dental Association shared his perspective as to how ‘Webinaritis’ has influenced learning. He said, “Initially in March, there was a massive excitement on videoconferencing, online lectures and webinars and hence the term ‘webinaritis’ was first coined. However, as time passed, ‘webinaritis’ started to take its toll and became a serious subject to study for psychologists and now, it is regarded as the biggest challenge. Hence to overcome the issues of distance learning, we need to make content engaging, meaningful and immensely valuable.”
Prof. Dr Ayyaz further said, “Though E-learning is known to have a great potential in supporting change to dental education there is a huge gap in the perception of students and teachers about it. This gap can be overcome by adopting changes in the dental curriculum and engaging students by utilising modern tools of teaching. The early such changes are made, the better it is.”
Dr A Kumarswamy, India’s top dental professional and recipient of prestigious Indira Gandhi Priyadarshani Award, shared his own experience as a dentist who conquered COVID-19 and survived the virus. He said, “As part of the dental community, I can say that react instantly against the virus the moment symptoms of COVID-19 start to appear. Many people wait for the result of tests, but I can tell that it’s a waste of time. As dental professionals, we should not be in a state of denial and work against the virus and get treatment on time.”
While reminiscing his experience of being COVID-19 positive, Dr Kumarswamy told, “It is better to trust our physicians when one is getting treatment. Friends and family are the biggest support at such times. As dental healthcare providers, we need to understand that immunity plays an important role and positive thinking can surely have a great impact on ones strength to counter against COVID-19.”