Danielle Schroven on the virtues of investing in quality, comfortable personal protective equipment for the long-term – for the benefit of you and your patients

Without a doubt, the Prime Minister’s announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown created a buzz for us all.

And, whilst our dental practices remain the same safe havens they ever were, doubtless our patients will be hoping to see a loosening of the strict measures and a little less PPE than they did throughout 2020 now the COVID-19 vaccine programme is well underway.

Dentistry has changed beyond recognition from what it was just over 12 months ago. Now, my regular attendees are back and it’s great seeing them again. I am delighted they are healthy and are keen to return. Oral health care is so important and, even though we are still fighting this pandemic, many had put their regular dental check-up on their ‘to do’ list until better times.

Before the barriers were put up, it gave them great comfort in knowing there was a hand to hold when they had discomfort, someone to listen to their concerns and empathise, or offer a well-earned hug at the end of a stressful and complex procedure.

Dental nurses made a huge difference to each and every appointment in the way we communicated with words, with actions and via our body language.

Sadly, much of this has been made more difficult since COVID-19. Unfortunately, too, PPE will be around for the foreseeable future. I’ve had a lot of questions from patients, with many asking if we will ever be rid of the extra precautions and I’ve been responding in a positive way.

I tell many of them that having this PPE protects us all, and it’s an essential part of how we can ensure a safe and comfortable visit. Quite simply, without it we wouldn’t be able to see anyone. Thankfully, most understand the severity of it all and are surprisingly empathetic about what we do and the extra PPE we must wear. In fact, I am very grateful to have met some wonderful people during my working COVID-19 journey.

But PPE remains a challenge for dental teams and, as we approach the warmer months, we face the seasonal struggle to stay cool and mitigate the risk of heat stress. The combination of PPE and uniforms last year caused a lot of challenges over the summer and some days proved to be unbearably hot. Sometimes at the end of the day, our uniforms would be drenched, our throats dry and bodies exhausted.

And, whilst an awareness of the signs and symptoms of heat stress is essential – some practices found that a ‘buddy’ system helped so everyone kept an eye on each other – there are other additions we can make to avoid the risks that lie in the uniform we wear beneath all that PPE.

Uniforms are also an important part of our professional identity. Our scrubs are our calling card and a nod to normality. Whilst PPE is to protect us, uniforms help to identify us. They relay the message that we are still the same familiar professional team underneath the masks. Every time we walk out in our scrubs, a patient recognises instantly that we are the clinical members of the team and there to guide them. Looking smart matters but it is also important to have a uniform that washes well at high temperatures, too.

At the moment my scrubs are being washed 24/7. I feel a lot safer, cleaner and more efficient once my uniform has been washed and ironed. Having it washed at such a high temperature provides me with reassurance, as I know the bad bacteria has been washed away. My scrubs get washed every day and I have my clean and dirty scrub bags ,which also get washed at a high temperature daily.

My priorities when it comes to choosing which scrubs to purchase will therefore always centre on those made of lightweight material but can be washed at high temperatures, an elastic waist band and lots of extra pockets that also tick the boxes.

Love your feet

As a dental nurse, I do a lot of running around, so footwear comfort is also important. Ideally, I like my shoes smart but lightweight and comfortable with good foot and ankle support. If they include shock absorbent technologies, such as air cushioning, all the better because hard surfaces can cause damage when we are on our feet all day.

That constant pounding on firm floors can also create issues with our knees, joints and even our back. Runner dental nurses will know about the wear and tear on our bodies only too well!

Nobody wants tender toes and painful arches, so shoes should be strong, durable and washable, or at least fluid resistant and wipeable. They also need to be non-slip or fastened with a safety strap.

The people at Toffeln, who design shoes, even reach out to health care workers to inform them on their brand direction.

The company’s partnership with experts at the University of Salford helped them to achieve a ‘loving your feet’ approach and they are constantly developing their range of footwear. I absolutely love their shoes, as they are extremely comfortable, – particularly important when I am on my feet all day!

Infection control, branding, comfort and patient expectations are all important factors in the choices we make about what we wear in clinic.

Other measures, such as air disinfection, vaccinations and stricter infection control protocols all work alongside the wearing of PPE to minimise the possibility of exposure to infection.

From the moment patients enter the practice, they are putting their trust in our care. In the current climate, they expect high professional standards in every aspect of treatment delivery – and that includes the uniform and the PPE we choose to wear.

Essential CQC advice on laundering of protective clothing

If staff need to take uniforms home, they must:

  • Wash hands after removing their uniform and placing it into a bag for transport
  • Take it home in either:
  • Wash uniforms separate from any other household linen

– a disposable plastic bag, disposed in the household waste
– a reusable cloth bag they wash with the uniform

  • –in a load of no more than half the machine capacity
  • –at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate, then iron or tumble-dry.