Unvaccinated dental tech wants to touch your teeth? Ask the COVID Counselor for advice.

Julia Wall/jwall@newsobserver.com
·2 min read

Welcome to week’s installment of the COVID Counselor, where we tackle your pandemic problems with thoughtfulness and occasional snark. Let’s pull on some surgical gloves and check the old mailbag.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I went to my dentist’s office after I bit down on some hard candy. When I asked if the office had been vaccinated, the technician said they were not required because they were not big enough. I then immediately asked if they were being tested on a regular basis. She said they were not. I mumbled something to the effect that they should be since they were a medical facility. How should I handle this? Should I give them a bad rating on social media? Should I write a letter to the owner and complain? Or should I just change dentists?

-- P.D. in Raleigh

Lord knows writing a nasty Yelp review feels like throwing a lightning bolt of propriety. But if you’re like me, those negative reviews start to feel petty after about 30 seconds, and you start Googling ways to unpublish.

So let’s try something else. For professional backup, I’ve called in my own dentist: Dr. Cheryl Siegel, who gets an endorsement from both my teeth and pandemic peace of mind.

Dr. Siegel once employed an unvaccinated employee herself. At the time this employee got hired, she wasn’t asking the question. And in the earlier days of the pandemic, this employee offered a bunch of reasons for steering clear of the needle.

But then a patient asked, and the employee revealed her unvaxxed status. Once the employee did that, the patient left a bad online review about “Typhoid Terry,” and Dr. Siegel had to let this person go. Everybody in her office is now fully vaxxed — a requirement in her office.

But here’s the thing.

The American Dental Association recommends vaccinations, but it doesn’t require them. You can hire an unvaccinated dental technician. But OSHA laws keep employers from telling anyone who is vaxxed on staff and who isn’t. And if a patient asks the technician directly, no answer is required.

“If they’re a good person,” Siegel said, “they’d tell you.”

Here’s her solution.

If you feel uncomfortable, ask to be rescheduled. Say you want only vaccinated hands in your mouth. Again, her office is vaccinated-up, but if it were a problem on that day, she could connect you with the right person without having to spill anybody’s medical secrets.

Whatever you do — and I’m talking to you squeamish out there — don’t use the pandemic as an excuse for avoiding the dentist.

Josh Shaffer has been a reporter and columnist for The News & Observer since 2004, covering a variety of topics. He is not a licensed doctor, public health specialist or a therapist.

Got a question? Write him at jshaffer@newsobserver.com. We’ll just use your first name and hometown.

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