5 molars in a row

I never imagined that the news we were hearing about a virus months ago would affect us so personally on so many levels.

As dentists and members of the health care community, we all had to make some extremely difficult decisions in recent weeks and the overload of information, opinions and responsibilities is stressful. It has been extremely difficult for me as a business owner and practicing clinician.

Many of us were clouded by the information we received from a variety of sources on U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, grants and unemployment resources. As a new practice owner, the fastest way for me to learn about these things was to be forced into the crash course that is COVID-19.

I went through scenarios in my head of how I could compensate my team while the office was closed for emergencies only. I considered how loan payments would be made and overhead would be sustained, or how I could protect myself, my team and patients from getting sick.

COVID-19 RESOURCES: We’ve created a new Spear Online resource page with practice management and clinical tools to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, so your team has the latest information to mitigate the financial impact and prepare to treat patients once operations return to normal.

I remembered that I was not the only one worrying, though like everyone, I grew concerned about how the crisis could impact my business and my various professional commitments.

Dentistry persists through the crisis

I am continuing to modify my faculty position at A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health by attending Zoom lectures online and grading assignments virtually.

I stay involved in organized dentistry by attending my ADA council meetings, conducting my local dental society board meetings and supporting my state association using online communications. Most recently, we held a personal protection equipment (PPE) drive through our local society and state association and Mission of Mercy foundation, collecting thousands of items and filling trucks with PPE for our medical facilities.

Meanwhile, I stay in touch with my dental team frequently, have one team member working at a time in the office, and found myself attending every webinar trying to learn more about the CARES Act and all of the updates that come to us daily from the ADA.

We are busy and while we are all not working the way we used to, we have found other things to occupy our time.

I began to think, with the new information that is out there and so much more that we have little to no control over, how can we take charge of this time and bring things under control?

In the chaos that surrounds us, our clinical abilities, desire to be great dentists and passion for our teams will help us survive.

Tapping into virtual resources

To me, there is no better time to utilize Spear Online. I remember receiving access when I joined Spear Study Club (which is also now virtual). I recall thinking there were a lot of great topics, for me and the entire team, but wondered when I would have time to watch the video lessons. Well, things have changed.

I gave my team members their own Spear Online logins. Now I assign them courses based on their interests in dentistry and our overall practice office needs. Spear’s online learning community is immense. I can see the progress the team is making as they take new courses. I often allow them to choose a topic to teach back to all of us. It’s a great learning opportunity for everyone.

Recently, I have had many colleagues and friends ask me what they should do about closing their office. We are still facing the unknown. When will this end? How and when can I get N-95 masks, toilet paper, or even eggs? What do I do about my team?

Many of us want answers, but I don’t know if anyone has a definite answer. This is new to us all.

I look at this opportunity as a rare time I can enjoy with my family. I can do the things around the house or even for my career that I have been meaning to do for months, if not years.

With the gift of time, I don’t have as many excuses to not utilize Spear Online, which has proven to be valuable for our team. I am not sure when our practices will return to normal operations, but if we will have any downtime, we can all be preparing to treat patients in the near future.

This situation is stressful. But we all have the power, strength and education to make tough decisions. Many of us are making huge sacrifices.

Hopefully, looking back, we’ll know we decided to be productive. We can hope this time away from our practices was a positive break from stress – to refocus on what is important to us, to catch up on the things we were missing out on.

Onika Patel, D.M.D., M.P.H., is president of the Central Arizona Dental Society and a member of the ADA's Council on Ethics, Bylaws, and Judicial Affairs.