DENTISTING DURING CORONAVIRUS Part 2: Interview with Dr. Dave Monokian

In our second installment of this new series, we’ll be asking questions and getting first-person perspectives on what it’s like so far to practice amid the pandemic. Every region, every practice, every practitioner has unique stories so we’re chronicling them here to give you an up-close and personal look at challenges, solutions and inspiring moments across the country.

Dr. Dave Monokian, or “Dr. Dave” to his patients, has been surrounded by dentistry his entire life. In 2005, he became a partner and cosmetic dentist at Monokian Family & Cosmetic Dentistry with locations in Marlton and Haddonfield, New Jersey. Dr. Monokian graduated from New York University College of Dentistry and now serves as the President of the Southern Dental Society of New Jersey.

Q: When did you reopen your practice?

A: We officially closed down Monday, March 16th and we opened Tuesday, June 2nd.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge so far?

A: Prior to closing, we had a full schedule between dentists and hygienists. We had to cancel those appointments for the three months we were closed. When we opened again, there were emergency patients who called and the people who had appointments cancelled from March that wanted to reschedule on top of people who had scheduled six months before June. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to see every patient. Making sure we’re staying equipped and have all of the right equipment for all of our employees despite the nationwide PPE shortage has been a huge challenge. And just coordinating the schedule — we can’t see nearly as many patients as we used to because of social distancing, trying to stagger appointment times and extending time for appointments to sterilize and disinfect the rooms. I would say those were some of the more significant challenges

Q: How have the changes in PPE affected your ability to practice?

A: It’s something that’s taking some time to get used to because we have to wear extra things and we’re changing things out more regularly now. It just affects the total number of patients we can see per day. It’s affected the overall production, revenue and number of patients we can treat.

Q: How has the experience been with patients? Has it been difficult to encourage patients to come into the office?

A: Even before the pandemic, we took a lot of pride in our infection control which has earned us a lot of loyal patients over the years. When all of this happened, we started on the process early. The day after we closed, I was on the phone trying to order things to stay ahead of the game. People definitely had questions but when we were closed we stayed in constant communication with our patients, sending emails and different types of correspondences. This was great to let them know the things we were doing and implementing in the practice to prepare them prior to coming into the office. The environment is definitely different with taking temperatures, asking various screening questions, things like that. Most of our patients trust that we’re doing the right thing because they’ve been with us for so long.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges with staff members?

A: They’re very supportive of what we’re doing and trying to lend a helping hand when they can. They had their questions about how we would do things and sometimes it’s a bit of trial and error as to how things go but they’ve been great. Our staff has really stepped up to help get everything reorganized and implement all of the new infection control. Dividing the team up to tackle certain areas helped a lot. We have team members that have been with us for a long time and they take pride in being a part of something special.

Q: Will dentistry ever return to what it was like pre-COVID? Should it? Or are the new precautions justified even in a world with a vaccine?

A: It’s probably always going to be how it is now. I remember when my father first started practicing and the AIDS epidemic hit. Before that, dentists weren’t wearing gloves or masks or much of anything; there was a new normal then. The biggest thing will be when we can finally get full PPE back in place and can get fully stocked with at least a month’s supply. Right now, we’re wearing two masks. Eventually, we’ll probably just go to one N95 mask. Our office put certain things in place that we intend on keeping. It’s all justified because you never know what else is around the corner. I don’t think you can ever be too cautious. You can screen and take medical histories, but there’s still a lot of hidden stuff out there. Vaccines give you more peace of mind but vaccines aren’t the be-all and end-all either. It’s difficult because it’s a complete unknown, but we’re in an industry working very close to people’s mouths with a lot of aerosols being created and a lot of potential to transmit something. The more caution, the better.