Written by: Dr Bryce Lee
President, Association of Orthodontists, Singapore
Please describe how Covid19 has affected orthodontic practice in Singapore.
When Covid-19 spread throughout the world in 2020, Singapore was not spared. I recall teaching on the first Friday of February at the National University of Singapore. There was a flurry of activity because all hospitals in Singapore were to heighten their infectious disease control level. Our “Disease Outbreak Response System Condition” or DORSCON level was to be changed to Orange. This was one level below Red - when an uncontrolled pandemic rages. The Prime Minister addressed the nation to tell us so that night. This was only the beginning.
Lives in all corners of society were affected. Orthodontic practice was not spared. The gradual restriction of our practice was implemented. This initially involved no work in more than 1 practice. That Friday in February would be the last day of teaching at NUS until July 2020. Full personal protective equipment (PPE) was to be donned at all times in practice. Temperature taking of everyone, including accompanying persons, were instituted. So was self-declaration of any travel history as well as “flu-like” symptoms.
In spite of these measures, the virus went on unabated. We soon realised that symptoms from the SARS-CoV-2 virus ranged from the very severe, including severe pneumonia needing external ventilation to the asymptomatic. No one, especially adults, was safe. The numbers exponentially increased to nearly 1,500 each day in April (Singapore has a population of about 5 and a half million). A nation-wide lock down, what we termed as a “circuit breaker”, was instituted that month. Only essential services (this was listed by the government) would operate. Orthodontic practice ceased for the next 2 months. We remained in contact with our patients via social media and tele-dentistry.
As the number of infections in Singapore, began to fall, the lock down measures were eased in June 2020. We gradually began to start seeing our patients, after nearly 3 months. This was spread out as we didn’t want to pack our waiting rooms, had to spend more time to disinfect our surgeries and introduced new measures including mouth rinses and “ventilation” times in-between patients. No new cases were to begin during this period.
A gradual resumption to “regular” practice is still on-going. Many of the precautions are still in place with stricter people tracing and movement. Masks are worn by all, including anyone who enters the clinic premises. Persons exhibiting “flu-like” symptoms are denied entry into the clinic.
How are the members of your Society coping with the change?
Neither the society nor the executive committee have met in person for over a year now.
Webinars and online lecture are a norm, as are zoom meetings. We are coping well but look forward to physical networking and overseas travel very much.
What government support and guidelines have been implemented?
The government has been very supportive with initiatives such as Rent and staff reliefs (especially during the lock down). There was tremendous help in procurement of PPEs and we are all very grateful for this. The Ministry of Health guidelines were helpful but demanding at times. All in all, we thought it was acceptable since we are all fighting a disease that is unknown and ever-changing.
How has your Society +/- Ministry of Health (MOH) helped its members during this difficult period?
The AOS worked hand in hand with MOH. We have a very close working relationship with the Chief Dental Officer (CDO). On more than one occasion, we acted as the intermediary between our members and CDO. We explained to our members MOH’s policies and at the same time, conveyed our members’ concerns back to CDO. We also participated in committees to help in the management of all orthodontic patients (including those seen by non-orthodontists) during the lock down as well as soon after that trying period.
Moving forwards, how do you think orthodontic practice will change?
I think this has given tele-dentistry and digital technology a huge boost in the way we manage our patients. What will eventually surface? Your guess is as good as mine. Pure virtual events will probably not be sustainable but hybrid meetings may become a norm in the future. There are pros and cons (including cost implications) to this, but the best is yet to be. Our profession must overcome and become stronger.
How are the preparations for AOSC 2021 going?
The Association of Orthodontists Singapore Congress (AOSC) 2021 will be conducted on a digital platform. I would like to personally invite our friends from the APOS fraternity to join us for this conference. Apart from talks given by speakers all around the world, we will have a virtual networking session as well as a virtual run. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, we hope to make the meeting a memorable event. Please find us on www.aoscongress.com for more details.