Dentists add new PPE charge to most dental procedures

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

If you have recently been to your local dentist, you probably paid an additional personal protective equipment fee. The Ontario Dental Association (ODA) set a new $18 fee for enhanced protective equipment required during the pandemic.

Because most dental offices are privately run, insurance companies may or may not cover the added cost.

Sarah Wreggitt, manager at Fort Frances Dental Centre, said the clinic only charges the fee when the enhanced protective equipment is required. PPE is always required for aerosol-generating procedures and for dental hygiene appointments, she added.

Aerosol-generating procedures means anything that produces airborne particles or respiratory droplets which may carry a virus.

“If you come in for a consultation or a checkup or an X-ray, we wouldn’t charge that fee because we are not working in the mouth creating those aerosols,” Wreggitt said. “But as soon as you start to do a filling and we are using the drill, or when they are doing their dental cleaning and they are spraying water, that is going to create the aerosols and that is when they require the extra protective equipment.”

The addition of this fee caused various reactions from Fort Frances residents. Some argue the added cost should be absorbed by the clinics and not levied on patients.

On the flip side of the coin, others say since most dental clinics are privately run and do not receive funding from the provincial government, they have the right to temporarily charge for PPE until the pandemic is over.

“We have seen the squabbling on social media about the fee,” Wreggitt said. “There has been some confusion that the fee is to cover cleaning of the office, which it is absolutely not true. The fee is strictly related to the additional “enhanced” protective equipment necessary to ensure safe treatment for all of our patients.”

The PPE includes changing procedural masks, N95 masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and caps.

“I have seen people comparing dentists charging this fee to other professionals who are not, such as optometrists and hair stylists,” Wreggitt said. “These other professionals are not working in people’s mouths, creating aerosols which can remain in the air for hours following a procedure without proper ventilation and filtration, which we have also installed.”

Wreggitt said the clinic makes sure to notify patients of the added fee before they come to the appointment.

“Every time when we book, if it’s a new booking, we let patients know and if not, when we are confirming the appointment we are letting them know that ‘there’s an $18 protective equipment fee that may or may not be covered by your insurance’ and it is procedure specific,” Wreggitt said.

“If we know they are coming in for a cleaning, we know there is going to be a charge for it, so we have been letting patients know ahead of time. We ask patients to come by themselves to the appointment if possible, and to come at their appointment time instead of coming in early. We are asking that they either wait in their car or kill some time downtown.”