DENTISTING DURING CORONAVIRUS Part 5: Interview with Dr. Jason Auerbach

In 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 stores so we’re chronicling them here to give you an up-close and personal look at challenges, solutions and inspiring moments across the country.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Dr. Jason Auerbach, otherwise known as @BloodyToothGuy to his nearly 130,000 Instagram followers, built Riverside Oral Surgery from the ground up. Starting with one practice, Dr. Auerbach now has four practices across multiple New Jersey counties. After graduating with honors from New York University College of Dentistry and completing a residency at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center, Dr. Auerbach committed himself to providing, in his own words, “with uncompromised care in an unparalleled setting.” He is a regular on New Jersey magazine’s annual list of Top Dentists. Dr. Auerbach is also an Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 alum and his Englewood location was featured in the magazine.

Q: When did you reopen your practice?

A: We never truly closed our practice. We were seeing emergencies throughout.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge so far?

A: The biggest challenge was deciding to furlough as many team members as I had to. I started my practice from zero with only one office and now we have four offices, 42 employees and six surgeons. Having to decide to furlough or lay off some of these people who I consider my family was probably the most emotionally difficult part. From a financial perspective, trying to figure out the financial side of things like how to navigate the legislation and the PPP was also difficult. Fortunately, we were okay with our PPE thanks to Benco.

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

A: Not really. In oral and maxillofacial surgery, we have been used to practicing with a ton of PPE because of our hospital experience. From the beginning, the biggest difference was figuring out the flow and teaching our team how to manage with PPE. It’s a different experience for us than for a general dentist or hygienist who is not used to gowning up and surgically working in a sterile field.

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

A: Our patients have been looking forward to coming back, they want to get going and they’re looking at how and when they can get in. We’ve been very, very fortunate. Granted, there’s concern, but we’ve done a good job in terms of our protocols, procedures and implementing new technology. We know the patient is in the safest environment possible and we’re optimizing that whole side of our practice.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges with staff members?

A: There are childcare issues, younger employees who have young children have had trouble in terms of managing who’s taking care of them. As far as certain employees and team members having anxiety or fear about coming back, my practice has been at the forefront of practices in the area. We’ve been hosting live webinars with all kinds of experts in the field. The issue with my employees has been assuring them they are working in a safe environment and we are doing everything we can for them.

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: I think this will raise awareness for a lot of dentists who were a bit less cautious. Most of the people who are dentists now have been practicing only since universal precautions were established. What HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis C did for bloodborne pathogen awareness and how we approach universal precautions, is what COVID-19 will do for awareness of airborne pathogens. This will bring a new standard for patient care and become our norm. We will all be aware of airborne pathogens in a way that we otherwise were not as dentists. As the years go on, we’ll better understand COVID, the pathogenesis, and what this specific coronavirus does. I think we will be in a situation where we will be able to handle it in a much better way. As long as you are protected and your team is protected and you’re taking into account what’s best for patients, yourself, your team and society at large, we’ll be alright.

Q: Your Instagram account has an international following. What did you think as you were watching the pandemic unfold in real time on social media, and was there any communication and collaboration between you and your followers?

A: I come at this from two different angles. My practice is looked to as a leader for guidance from all of these dentists and we are very honored and appreciative for that. I was listening to oral surgeons in Asia and Eastern Europe daily. I was talking to oral surgeons in Italy who were two or three weeks ahead of the United States. I was getting an understanding of what they were experiencing and I was assuming that we were going to experience the same things. Having international relationships allowed me to get in front of it here. I was very, very fortunate to leverage those friendships that have been formed on social media to help Riverside Oral Surgery. It allowed us to be ahead of the curve and allowed us to be progressive. We had aerosol management systems well before anyone even thought about it. We had air purification systems in place in the offices before anybody thought of it. We had sneeze guards in front of our reception areas before anyone thought of it. We were ready for this because I was talking to people who were going through it before I was. We really harnessed the power of social media. I was thankfully able to do that and it was a tremendous leg up and tremendous advantage.