AAE Integrated Communications Specialist Michael Dobrow recently interviewed AAE Member Dr. F. Micah Nuzum from Wooster, Ohio, about his recent invention, Shieldont and his experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as an endodontist?
I actually received my bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication from The Ohio State University. While there, many, if not all of my elected courses, were in science. My interest in dentistry grew from there. In 2006, I graduated from The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. After completing my endodontic programming there too, I started my own practice in Wooster, Ohio, and have been an endodontist for over 10 years.
Broadly speaking, the coronavirus has really affected everything from the minutiae of the day to day — to the health and well-being of myself, my staff, my family, patients and finances. It’s really brought on some unique and unexpected challenges. When states and communities started to go in lockdown, my dental society emailed me to ask if I was planning to remain open — it was a real gut check moment for me, but I replied: yes.
Patients don’t stop experiencing dental pain or acute emergencies simply because of a pandemic. As endodontists, we have received a solemn responsibility from our dental community to mediate for them and help keep patients out of the ER. Yet secondarily, we have a responsibility to provide this care in the safest, most responsible way possible. My team and I had to adjust everything, from the type of PPE we wore (and were able to get) to how we managed patients.
How hard was it to get PPE?
It was fairly difficult to obtain the ADA and CDC recommended PPE early on. My brother and my assistant’s relative actually found N95 masks, when cleaning out their garages and office spaces. In the beginning, we were constantly scrambling to manage the ever-changing and almost daily guidance from the CDC. We were doing everything from patient pre-screenings to in-office temperature checks, to new sanitizing regimens and patient flow protocols. In time, it became easier to secure some of the necessary PPE. Yet, it never felt as if we had enough or that we were doing enough to keep everyone safe.
Aside from taking steps to protect my patients and staff, I desperately needed to guard myself from getting sick, and, subsequently, spreading this virus to my family. Specifically, respiratory illnesses have plagued my family, who have historically needed acute care and hospitalizations for their asthma.
And, this is how Shieldont came about?
Indeed! As you may already know, endodontists spend a considerable amount of time hunched over a patient and with our eyes in a microscope. While my team and I had face masks and other PPE, the eyewear was problematic for me. I had exhausted the current recommendations from the ADA and CDC (goggles, glasses, and face shields), but glasses and goggles made microscope use difficult.
I was literally sweating the heck out of my eyes and fogging up what little I could still see. I even tried rolling back the eye cups on my binoculars to no avail. At times, the glasses or pressure from the goggle’s bands would even cause headaches.
I literally thought to myself, I don’t know how I can keep doing this. I need to do something or this isn’t going to work. I had major concerns about the implications of closing shop and what it would mean for my staff financially and the health of the patients we treat. And then, I got sick!
It was during my recovery time and through the encouragement of scripture that I started to play with leftover glass from the hardware store. In short, this “garage experimentation” led to the creation of the microscope shield that protects the operator, eliminates the stress on the eyes and head, and provides unobstructed vision and ease of operative hand movement.
That’s incredible and quite an inspiring journey! Can you tell me more about Shieldont, like how it works and how to clean it?
Since Shieldont’s inception, I have been with a team of talented engineers working to adapt the shield to multiple microscope brands and different users. Now, in virtually all microscope models, the shield can be installed quickly and easily without disassembly. We recommend that after each patient, the shield should be cleaned with normal dental disinfectants and 70% isopropyl wipes. We recommend avoiding bleach as a direct cleaner, because, when wiping down, bleach can leave a cloudy residue on the shield.
Do you have a website or place members can learn more about this new device?
To learn more about this device, I encourage colleagues to visit shieldont.com. You can see more about my story, our mission, and how we are making a difference. I have a dedicated small team of employees working to locally source and assemble each of these shields.
Is this device for sale?
Absolutely! The shields are for sale, and they can be purchased today, at shieldont.com. Every new purchase enables Shieldont to freely donate our PPE to dental schools and endodontic residencies. The majority of our profits will continue to do both this and support post-COVID dental-mission trips to less fortunate areas. If AAE members are interested in purchasing a shield, we have a promocode for them, which is SHIELDONTAAE.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with members?
My late pastor, who was also a Marine, had this license plate displayed: UMATTER! I think about that quite a bit. Now more than ever, endodontists need to know they matter, not only to their families and staff, but also to the referring dentists and patients, whom they serve and protect.
One of my most memorable patients during the lockdown was the sweetest lady in the world, who had been too afraid to leave her house. She told me she hadn’t left her home in weeks. Not even with a mask on to run basic errands…
Although her crippling fear of the pandemic had kept her home from everything else in life, her tooth pain warranted immediate help. After her treatment (in which she comfortably dozed off), she told me she was not only relieved and grateful, but also completely assured of her safety. As an endodontist, these sorts of experiences are why I love what I do. I get to intercede and encourage, and sometimes, give a little hope to someone who has lost it. As endodontists, you get to do the same. Endodontists: you matter!