Dentists struggle amid shortage of medical masks, mounting costs of doing business

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Updated: Jun. 2, 2020 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Many independent dentists are worried about a shortage of medical masks and say time could be running out for their practices because of escalating costs.

After being shut down for more than two months, they’re reopening with new risks.

At Oahu Pediatric Dentistry in Pearl City, there's a whole new pandemic protocol.

From vector foggers to wiping down surfaces to extra patient care, dentists are battling COVID-19 while fighting to survive.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster. It’s been frustrating,” said Dr. Jason Ching, pediatric dentist.

Dentistry is in Dr. Ching’s DNA. It’s a business he took over from his father after moving back home from the Bay Area, but he says the pandemic could force some independent dental practices to shut down permanently over the next few months because of mounting bills and fewer patients.

"It's a total collapse," he said.

"All the ones that have been here for generations, they are at risk now and it's sad to me," he added.

He says the supplier of personal protective equipment told him Hawaii dentists are a lower priority because of the state’s low infection rate and dentists come after hospitals and first responders.

He adds that he's running out of N95 masks and has a two-week supply left.

“Especially in health care, dentists are in the high risk category. Dental hygenists are very high risk yet we are competing with retail,” he said.

Because of the PPE shortage, the CDC has new guidelines on N95 masks.

After the medical professional is done using their mask for the day, they put it in a paper bag for five days. Ching’s staff put their bags by a window so that the sunlight can kill any viruses.

"I've invested in powered air purifiers those astronaut looking things. We are waiting for them to come in," said Dr. Jill Kanemaru-Hwang, general dentist.

She and Ching are part of a new hui of about 70 dentists that share large shipments of masks and safe business practices.

"There's a battle between making sure we have everything and opening our doors so it's this constant push and pull," she said.

Dentists say they are expecting more guidelines from the CDC on Wednesday, but because government has moved so slowly, they’ve been coming up with protocols on their own.

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