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AAE interviews member Dr. Judy McIntyre about life on the endodontic front lines

AAE integrated communications specialist Michael Dobrow recently interviewed Association member, Judy McIntyre, D.M.D., M.S., about her endodontic work on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. McIntyre is the sole practitioner of Hopkinton Endodontics, located in the town known as the “start of the Boston Marathon.” She provides endodontic services to Metro-west Boston – about one hour due west of Boston.

Dobrow: What constitutes a “dental emergency”?

Dr. McIntyre: Many oral health issues may seem like a dental emergency, but before a patient risks venturing out into the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, we advise to get in touch with your dentist, who may then encourage you to call an endodontist for a phone consultation. An endodontist (most are open and more available than general dentists) will be able to assess the patient’s issues and help make an appropriate determination for treatment.

That said, I would describe a dental emergency as any situation in which a patient is experiencing debilitating pain, their tooth or teeth are knocked out (not minor damage to their crown or something can easily be treated by a trip to their local pharmacy), painful swelling in or around their mouth, infected gums or presence of an infected abscess.

Dobrow: What is it like treating patients on the front lines?

Dr. McIntyre: Many people may have had tooth pain in the weeks before the pandemic and may have been apprehensive about having a root canal. They may have pushed the treatment off until they could no longer manage the pain. Severe tooth pain can really make life miserable and drive patients a bit crazy. And now, with this pandemic where patients may have more time on their hands or instances where it becomes harder to distract the mind from the pain, they’re seeking treatment.

Patients seek care because they are experiencing excruciating pain. They may be afraid to seek care or have uneasy feelings about the prospect of having a root canal now more than ever.

Yet, the reaction I hear from patients after treatment is almost always the same: they are pleasantly surprised at how easy the root canal procedure was and they are so thankful to be free of tooth pain.

Pre-Covid, I’ve had patients hug me afterward because they were so happy. Now, with social distancing we’re avoiding the hugs.

I’ve even had patients doze off during the root canal procedure.

Dobrow: What do you want patients to know?

Dr. McIntyre: Endodontists are here to help you. A healthy tooth should not hurt. If it does, a root canal treatment may be indicated and may be the best course of action.In fact, root canal treatment is simply just a little longer than your average visit to the dentist. I try to promote this on my social media – that root canals are nothing to fear.

It bears repeating, healthy teeth aren’t supposed to hurt, ever! If they do, it could be because something is not healthy; they could be infected and might need root canal treatment. Endodontics, the root canal process, relieves pain, not causes it, which is the misconception. Sometimes antibiotic treatment isn’t enough. Our bodies are meant to heal, but if the pain doesn’t go away and lasts for days, or even weeks, then a root canal treatment can help.

As an endodontist, we typically see patients once or maybe twice. We may not have that same level of trust they have with their general dentist. That’s tricky but we are here to help and then return you back to your general dentist in the comfort of their dental home.

A tooth pain or infection if left untreated could force a patient to ER.

Dobrow: How are you increasing awareness that your practice is open to treat patients during emergencies? Likewise, what do you think other endodontists can do to reach patients and GPs?

McIntyre: I am active on social media, but we’ve also been  following up via email or telephone with patients who had previously scheduled their procedures pre-pandemic or had consultations to answer any questions they may have or address their concerns. Many of them have kept their appointments. I also keep in touch with general dentists I have referral relationships with. Here in Boston, we also have a great website: dentalcupid.com that is a great resource for physicians and EDs to divert patients with dental pain away from the ED.

Dobrow: Please tell me about the steps you take to protect patients, yourself and team.

Dr. McIntyre: I’ve had to reschedule a fair share of patients early on. My practice follows the guidelines put out by the AAE, ADA and CDC.

We have increased the frequency in which we sanitize all areas of our office. We’ll use bleach or CaviCide to wipe things down like doorknobs, pens, etc. We’re cleaning everything!  It’s a bit exhausting.

We also email our patients various education literature like the Massachusetts Dental Society’s COVID consent form, so they understand the risks, but also so they can provide the care provider the most accurate information about their/the patient’s travel, fever, cough and etc. We text and call our patients before the appointment and they call or text us upon arrival.

We limit who the patient brings with them. We discourage bringing a guest inside the office. If they have someone to drive them, we ask that person to wait in their car. We also request the patient waits in the car until their appointment until we’re ready for them so that there aren’t two patients in our office simultaneously.

Upon entering the office, we instruct patients to use the washroom to wash their hands. We have a 4 lb container of hand sanitizer on the counter and smaller ones throughout the facility. We have single use pens for use and PPE like KN95 masks, plastic face shield, disposable gloves and gowns.

Dobrow: What steps or things do you do to help maintain a work/life balance?

Dr. McIntyre: I’m very blessed with an extremely kind and understanding husband – he understands my passion for dentistry and helping patients. I certainly can’t speak for other endodontists or health care professionals, but I think many of their partners probably “get” this. My kids are also quite mature and understanding. They’re a little bit older… They’re very busy with home schooling. I try to keep my weekends free. And when I’m home, I try to be very present with them. I’ve been trying to take as much advantage of this current situation. We do yard work, go on family bike rides and family movies each night. We live in New England. Sometimes the weather doesn’t like to cooperate … We’re trying to make the best of it like everyone else.