With COVID-19 being an airborne, highly contagious and possibly life-threatening virus, one of the scariest places to be is in front of a person who is not wearing a mask. Now imagine having to be inside of a person’s mouth for minutes or even hours at a time, dramatically closer than six feet apart. It is not a job many people choose to do, and many have stopped doing so entirely because of the peril it requires currently. But just because a pandemic is occurring does not mean teeth quit needing care and emergencies stop happening. Healthcare and frontline workers are risking their lives, security and their own well-being every day to keep our communities safe.
I had the pleasure of interviewing my incredible dentist Dr. Michele Semonelli at Forever Family Dental in Wilmington, Massachusetts. She works at a strictly female office as the only dentist, taking responsibility for hundreds of patients, an insurmountable task. If it were not for her hard work, determination and bravery, many more people would be in pain.
Her Campus (HC): Why did you choose to be a dentist?
Michele Semonelli: Even as a very young child I knew that I wanted to work in health care. I was given the opportunity in high school to work at a dental office behind the scenes assisting with little menial tasks like cleaning laboratories, stocking rooms, running errands for the dentists and assistants and just really got an opportunity to see the inner workings of the office and what kind of impact that I could potentially have on someone’s life. There was a young child who came in with a mouth deformation. He wouldn’t smile or engage, and we could not get him to talk too much. He was self-conscious because of how the kids at school treated him. Through a series of different treatments with the orthodontist, he was able to have a smile he was proud of. He became charismatic, charming and vocal. It was fun to see that happen.
HC: What is the hardest part about being a healthcare worker during this pandemic?
MS: I don’t think there is an organization that has not changed dramatically in the face of COVID-19. There have been challenges for decades working tirelessly as dental professionals to reinforce the importance of overall dental health. Health should not be separated from one or another, this notion was brought into question when we closed… Your mouth is the pathway to your body and as a result, we diagnose things every day that keep people out of hospitals or emergency rooms. That is important.
HC: How does PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) affect you or your staff?
MS: I would say that the increased fatigue that you experience with extra PPE does affect some of my colleagues, obviously causing them to take longer to do the same procedures because you want to make sure that you are taking the time to take on and off PPE to sterilize equipment and make sure that we are doing all that we possibly can to put our patients and staff at ease… I would just say, we have been practicing with increased PPE since June 10, 2020, and call your attention to the fact that we have had patients that were later discovered to be positive but asymptomatic and there is no evidence that my staff has tested positive as a result to being exposed to a COVID positive patient in this office. We wear double masks, face shields that touch our chest, eye coverings, disposable gowns, gloves and wash our hands 20 minutes at a time. It has always been safe, but we are being far more diligent now.
HC: What is your take on the vaccination? Have you already gotten it, or will you?
MS: I can understand where people might have concerns but I will absolutely get the vaccine as soon as it is offered to me. There are very thorough phased out plans, but dental professionals are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. Some locations are moving through the phase list faster than others. So, only some dentists and hygienists have been given it but then there are others who are waiting to be called. It is something that will not be a magic wand, it is not going to allow you to take your mask off and socialize to the extent you once did, we will still have to be very careful. If 70 to 80 percent of people get it, we will build immunity, protect each other and be safer overall. This will go on for much longer unless the vaccine effort steps up.
Thank you, Doctor Semonelli, and other frontline workers for all that they risk during this pandemic. The bravery and generosity they express for helping others is appreciated by us all. Together we will get through this and also patiently wait to be called.