Reno Hygienist Opens Up About One of the Riskiest Jobs During The Pandemic

Brigid Butler interviews registered hygienist Kathleen Scott on how COVID-19 has forced her to change the way she cleans teeth.

Hygienists go where most people won’t during the era of COVID-19, behind the mask.

Nearly a year has passed since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers across the nation have had to adapt to evolving protocols and rules that needed to be enforced to protect everyone. For registered dental hygienist Kathleen Scott, navigating through infectious diseases is nothing new, but never on this scale.

Scott has been practicing dental hygiene for nearly 30 years. Prior to the existence of the COVID-19, Scott has seen other illnesses that could potentially put her in harm’s way.

“I have dealt with HIV positive patients and hepatitis B patients,” Scott said. “Scary viruses are nothing new to us. Protecting ourselves and our patients have always been a priority, pre-pandemic and more so now. When COVID came onto the scene in order to go back to practicing dentistry, we were required to take even more precautions to keep ourselves and our patients safe from contracting it,” Scott said.

Being in a field of work where you are exposed to someone’s open mouth and aerosols created by dental equipment, it was necessary for Scott and her coworkers and fellow hygienists around the world to gear up before going into work.

Scott detailed the personal protective equipment she and her coworkers had to wear here in Reno. “Originally, our standard was wearing full PPE, long-sleeved scrubs, protective eyewear, gloves, a disposable jacket, and of course masks,” Scott said.

In the summer following the beginning of the pandemic, the supply in demand was so high for protective gear that Scott and her dental office could not even purchase needed masks.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were required to wear N95 masks,” Scott said. Due to the supply in demand, we could not find any, so we wore KN95 masks.” Kathleen tried to keep a positive attitude amongst the chaos and make light of the situation. “I joke that the K stands for Kinda Protective,” she says.

In an industry where you are in close contact with what is now covered by a mask means that precaution is the first concern. Since returning to work in May of 2020, Scott has come in contact with COVID-19 positive patients.

“I cleaned teeth of COVID-positive patients. The first patient, we were unsure what to do. I was the first provider in the office to work on a Covid patient. We asked ourselves, ‘Now what do we do?’ At the time, we were so ignorant. We were still unsure of what the virus really was,” Scott said. “I knew I took all of the necessary steps to keep myself protected. In fact, I knew there was nothing else I could do. I was never scared. I honestly just wanted to work”.

Now, months later, Scott and her office still follow many COVID-19 precautions. Although the hygienist and fellow staff are fully vaccinated now safety is still a large concern.

“Some of the protocols we implemented during COVID are still being kept. Patients still need to wear masks just like everywhere else,” Scott said. “We are still protecting ourselves. Patients still have to take certain precautions.”

Even though life in the future may look very different, Scott keeps a positive attitude about her situation. “I can’t predict what will change, but I sure can’t wait to take my mask off in between patients.”

Reporting by Brigid Butler for The Reynolds Sandbox

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