Fairbanks dentist discuss dangers of delaying care

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On March 19th Governor Dunleavy issued a health mandate regarding oral health procedures.

Dentists have only been allowed to preform emergency care to patients due to a mandate from Governor Dunleavy. Fairbanks dentists say if this continues, it could cause problems for patients. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

“The mandates limit dental care to emergencies only, so people who are actively in pain or folks who have swelling or infections can still be treated — but all the preventative and routine care, as you said, is canceled,” said oral and maxillofacial surgeon Richar Hompesch who also owns North Star Oral and Facial Surgery, LLC.

He said that the decisions where necessary, but that there is a trade-off.

“As more patients have to go longer and longer and are unable to get routine dental preventative care, there will be more and more dental emergencies that could have otherwise been easily avoided,” Hompesch said.

These delays can cause increased pain, and end up costing patients more money.

Oral surgeon Clay Van Leeuwen, who owns Alaska Oral and facial Surgery, Inc., said that for a few weeks it isn’t a big problem, “but over time, if that stretches into months and beyond that even potentially, then it could be problematic for sure.

This is because of how dentistry works. Hompesch described dentistry as preventative in nature. He said many people can go their whole lives with little or no dental pain. He said that as time goes on, dentistry is becoming reactive instead of proactive.

They said that at some point things will have to change.

“At the end of the day we can’t go on like this forever. There are a lot of oral health care needs that can be put on the back-burner for a little bit, but ultimately those people are going to need treatment,” Van Leeuwen said.

The governor’s mandate lists potential infection as only one aspect of the decision. Another facet is the need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The dentists said that if they are able to secure enough PPE, they are confident that they can safely reopen.

Hompesch said that they have been dealing with viruses for their entire careers — and while coronavirus does present new challenges, they are confident they can overcome them.

“This is a new challenge and it will certainly require changes, but I know the dental community is up to the task. So when Governor Dunleavy feels it’s right, I am sure we’ll be eager to get back to work,” Hompesch said

Dunleavy signaled in Tuesday’s press conference that he may soon relax restrictions on medical procedures, signaling the potential for dentists to resume preventative care.

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