Providing healthcare during a global pandemic is complex and challenging. The New Zealand government has introduced an alert level system to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. For the past three weeks, extreme restrictions have been in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 including substantially reduced oral healthcare services.
Due to the high risk of transmitting COVID-19 during aerosol-generating procedures common in dental procedures, dental treatment has been limited to emergencies only with specific PPE requirements under alert level 4.
The restrictions on dental practices have been challenging for all our oral health practitioners. As well as concerns for the safety and ongoing oral health of their patients, practitioners are dealing with personal safety concerns and the potential impacts on them as business owners, employers or employees.
We recognise that the prospect of moving to a new alert level is creating more uncertainty and practitioners are seeking further guidance as early as possible. We are receiving an increasing number of inquiries from practitioners about providing dental treatment in alert levels 3, 2, and 1.
The Council has formed a Clinical Advisory Group including a range of practitioners from district health boards, private general practice, dental specialist practice and oral health community services. This group is developing guidelines for oral health care treatment under each alert level based on the same template and risk assessment used in the joint MOH/Council guidelines for alert level 4.
We will seek feedback from key professional associations before finalising the guidelines for each alert level. However, we will be unable to finalise and issue these guidelines until the government decides which alert level will apply next and clarifies how (and which) businesses can operate as the country de-escalates levels. We are working to publish the guidelines as close as possible to the relevant government announcements.
As soon as guidelines for each level have been finalised and approved by the Ministry of Health, we will advise practitioners and make them available on our website.