The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it on a global scale. As the world shut down and sheltered in place in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, healthcare workers everywhere were called to lead the battle on the front lines. Dental professionals, with their unique skill set- knowledge of human physiology, basic sciences, pharmacology and sterile surgical techniques- were well equipped to serve as a resource in the COVID-19 pandemic response. Pediatric dentists around the country rallied to meet challenge after challenge, in their individual communities as well as at a national level.
Pediatric dentists volunteered to administer COVID-19 diagnostic tests at the onset of the outbreak, and later to administer vaccines. Many practitioners donated much needed PPE and other related supplies to local hospitals, even when it became increasingly difficult to order and replenish their own stock. Most implemented changes in their office set-up and adhered to ever-evolving guidelines in order to continue to see emergencies and keep children out of the hospital emergency rooms, while ensuring the safety of their patients and staff.
Behind the scenes, advocacy efforts were in full swing over the past year to ensure federal stimulus packages provided dentists the support they needed. Per the ADA, it mobilized its more than 151,900 dental advocates in grassroots action alerts to send nearly 600,000 emails to U.S. leaders during deliberations related to COVID-19 legislation. Dentists, including pediatric dentists, were involved in their state’s return-to- work task forces dedicated to creating directives that would ensure a safe return to the work place.
For Ronald Hsu, a pediatric dentist in Clark County, WA, the crisis proved to be a personal call to action. When the Washington State Dental Association secured masks from FEMA, Dr. Hsu volunteered to personally distribute them to area dentists. He also spearheaded an effort to organize and obtain a substantial group rate for extraoral suction systems, which, though expensive, are believed to prevent the aerosolized droplets produced during routine dental procedures from entering the airstream. Further, he helped the Clark County Dental Society transition from in-person meetings to Zoom meetings.
A prolific organized dentistry leader in Clark County and volunteer on several AAPD committees, Dr. Hsu considers helping his colleagues and patient families nothing less than a labor of love. My family and I have called Clark County home for more than 10 years. Over that time, I have taken cared of over 10,000 children and I count it a privilege to be able to serve them and to interact with them. My life has been greatly enriched as a result.”
In order to best serve the children in his community in a rapidly evolving landscape, Dr. Hsu quickly realized the importance of adapting and evolving along with the situation. “Armed with fit-tested KN95 masks, face shields, extraoral suction units, as well as surgically clean air filtration units, we slowly opened up our office while we erected barriers for the front desk and closed off our reception area and the movie room”, he says. “We figured out how to direct patients so no families came within 6 feet of each
other, and everyone was asked to wear masks. If they didn't have one, we would supply one. Most families felt very safe coming to our office and our reviews reflect that.”
His efforts had a surprising outcome: “Within a month of us reopening our doors we have not only returned to ‘normal’ numbers, but we actually out-performed 2019 by 50% for July, August, and September. It was clear that our services were in high demand.” This demand, it appears, is a direct result of the almost universal changes in routine and structure in children’s lives over the past year. “We have been seeing a noticeably higher incidence of tooth decay and progression of incipient lesions. In my 15 years in this County I have not seen decay progress like this. And in parent interviews, it was clear that dietary habits had worsened during the pandemic and that would explain the increase in decay rate.”
In an effort to disseminate workflow knowledge gained from research and experience, Dr. Hsu served as a guest on AAPD’s Pedo Teeth Talk Podcast on April 3, 2020, speaking on the topic “One Pediatric Dentist’s Observations & Actions to Date in Early Response to COVID-19”. Later that year, he moderated and co-directed along with Dr. Joel Berg, the AAPD NashVirtual preconference course titled, “COVID-19 and How to Turn Your Lights Back On”.
For this COVID hero, nothing brings greater satisfaction that being part of the effort to guide the profession back to normalcy- and his patients back to health. “My enjoyment in being a Pediatric Dentist comes from teaching and empowering children and their parents to attain optimal oral health through the adaptation of simple principles that will help prevent cavities for a lifetime.”
Dr. Ronal Hsu is a pediatric dentist who owns and operates Storybook Dental in Camas, WA. He and his wife Misty are happy parents of three sons and two daughters.