Reopen News: Oral care doctors prepping for new, safer reality after pandemic

MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- Doctors are getting back to work on Long Island as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, including dentists and orthodontists, but appointments may be very different from what patients are used to.

At Luccarelli and Barrese Orthodontics in Mineola, the safety protocols will begin in the parking lot.

"They'll text us when they get here," Dr. Steven Luccarelli said. "And when our chair is ready, we'll text them to come in."

Then it's a host of routine questions, which are sent to parents ahead of time so young patients like Harper Cohen, of Roslyn, aren't too spooked to see their doctors in PPE to fix a loose wire.

The office is currently only seeing emergency cases, but all dental care will be on the table during Phase 2 in New York's re-opening plan. But exactly when that begins is anyone's guess.

"The New York state Dental Association has urged Governor Cuomo to allow dentists to get back to work, to be deemed essential health care workers, as we are, so that we can implement these new practices and prevent the looming oral health crisis that is unfortunately at our doorstep," said Dr. Chris Salierno, with the New York Dental Association.

Luccarelli and Barrese Orthodontics plan to stay open twice as long, with 12 hour days, and split their office into two teams to space out their young patients more safely in an open concept room.

Normally, parents would sit shoulder to shoulder on a bench as their children are being worked on, and that's another big change. From now on, only one parent, if any, will join their child in the room.

"Parents can feel comfortable sending a 12-year-old child into the office by themselves," Dr. Luccarelli said. "And if it's a younger child, then certainly one parent is welcome to come in with them."

There's also new plexiglass, a required 30-second mouth rinse, a new HVAC system with ultraviolet light, and the arcade area is closed off.

"You trust your doctors," mom Michelle Cohen said. "And if they feel it's safe to open and follow the protocols, you put your faith in them and you believe in them."

The office is scheduling more routine appointments as of June 8 but is prepared to slide them back if necessary.

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