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Asbury Park Press
Michael and Eric Adler added $30,000 in safety improvements to their Aberdeen practice. The World Health Organization raised concerns about dentistry.
Michael Adler’s headgear provokes all kinds of comments. You’ve seen heath care workers wearing face shields during the coronavirus pandemic. Adler, a dentist who co-owns Adler Family Dental in Aberdeen with his brother Eric, wears a face shield surrounded by black casing.
It’s a full helmet.
“People call me Darth Vader,” he said. “Or they say, ‘Where’s your Harley?’ But this is how I feel safe.”
The Adlers said they spent $30,000 on safety upgrades since March.
Michael’s helmet is the most obvious example, but there’s more. They installed a UV light air sanitizer into their office’s HVAC duct system, placed air purifiers in each treatment room and brought in Pax2000 Extraoral Dental Suction units, which are designed to remove droplets and aerosol particles created during dental procedures.
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“In each treatment room we’re managing the air around the patients,” said Eric Adler, who is also a dentist. “The name of the game is managing the air quality.”
So the Adlers, like many in their profession, were taken aback last week when the World Health Organization advised people to delay routine dental appointments in areas with COVID-19 community spread.
“The WHO is out of line,” Michael Adler said. “We’re safer in our office than they are in their own offices.”
On Tuesday the WHO clarified its guidance, saying routine appointments should be delayed only in areas with “intense, uncontrolled community transmission.”
To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 clusters traced to dental offices in the United States.
“To me, that even suggests that protective equipment used prior to COVID-19 was perfectly suitable,” said Art Meisel, executive director of the New Jersey Dental Association. “Now, extreme precautions are being taken.”
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Michael Adler (left) and Eric Adler (right) of Adler Family Dental in Aberdeen (Photo: Michael Adler)
At the direction of Gov. Phil Murphy, the Adlers closed their practice to all but emergency appointments from March 17 to May 26, during which time it underwent a complete makeover.
“We had 628 patients that had scheduled cleanings that did not get seen,” Michael Adler said. “When we reopened, the phones were ringing of the hook. We had to work six days a week at expanded hours just to accommodate the demand.”
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Because some other dentist’s offices in the area have not yet reopened for various reasons, Michael Adler estimated “we are probably at 110% of our previous work level.”
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Speaking broadly, Meisel estimated “the numbers are back to about 80% in most offices.”
Between the additional safety costs, the appointments lost to closure and the need for a wholesale reimagining of patient interaction, “these have been tough times” for the dental profession, Meisel said.
Not to mention an entire society living on edge.
“It’s a pandemic; everyone has some level of anxiety,” said Michael Adler, a father of three who lives in Marlboro. “I have two 12-year-olds and an 8-year-old I come home to every day.”
That’s why he puts on the helmet. It works for him and for his patients. They may call him Darth Vader, but the phone keeps ringing.
“It’s been challenging,” he said, “but also very rewarding to know we’re absolutely needed to help promote oral health.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected].
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