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Ambassadors for airflow

“We take a crazy amount of precautions.”

Dr. Margaret Meadows: quite a year in dentistry.
Dr. Margaret Meadows: quite a year in dentistry.

“First thing we did when covid hit was lock the doors and put up this “STOP!” sign,” says Dr. Margaret Meadows.

But not for long. Except for the initial nine-week shutdown, Meadows’ dental office has been open for business. She and her partner, Dr. Melanie Villalobos, have spent months looking intimately into mouths, exchanging breaths, dealing with coughs close-range during the worst months of covid.

To me, that takes a kind of courage bordering on foolhardiness. But Meadows dismisses that notion.“Oh no, we take a crazy amount of precautions. We always check patients’ temperature, and get an oximeter reading. Oxygen levels. That’s because only 54 percent of Covid carriers exhibit elevated temperatures. When people’s oxygen is low, that is a good indicator of problems.’”

Meadows really shouldn’t be doing this. “After covid first hit, my rheumatologist said, ‘Margaret, you cannot do dentistry.’ Because I am auto-immune compromised. Also I have my husband to think of, and my mother. She is in her nineties.”

Drs Meadows and Villalobos, with Wally, the aerosol extraction assistant.

But Meadows told the rheumatologist, “‘You come to my office and tell me I cannot do it.’”

The fact is, Drs. Meadows and Villalobos have gone to extreme lengths to keep their practice covid-free. “We have two secret weapons: every room has open sliding doors to the outside and constant air movement. And then there’s Wally.”

She points to what looks like a little elephant with a big trunk. “Wally sucks up any extra droplets in the air. Remember, this virus is not airborne, it’s aerosolized. So, little droplets. Wally sucks them up. And we have three filters inside.”

“We have Hepa filters in every single room. Plus I have a face shield, which I wear upside-down, because the aerosols drop.”

And PPEs, surgical gowns? “Back in March, 2020, all the PPE was back-ordered, and we couldn’t even find a plastic bag to cover us,” says Villalobos. Finally I found a small business in Michigan which was making these.”

“Then we have gloves, glasses, masks, shields, shoes that we don’t wear outside the office,” says Meadows. “Same with clothes. And underneath, we also have PPE gowns. And scrubs. That sometimes got hot and sweaty. But we’re lucky. Every single operatory [surgery] has a door and window to the outside. We’re ambassadors for airflow!”

Meadows’, Villalobos’s patient-donated sign outside, first, a covid test.

So what did they do during their nine weeks of lockdown? “We took the opportunity to study, 4-6 hours a day, and then meet 4-6 hours a day on the phone, keeping up with CDC, friends and contacts in Asia and in Europe. To me it was a very intellectually stimulating time. And Dr. Melanie was just out of dental school! What an introduction to dentistry!

What about other dentists? Did they close down?

“Oh yes,” says Villalobos. “We’ve had patients call and tell us their offices completely abandoned them. And we even had a lot of medical professionals, nurses, doctors whose dental offices would not even see them, because they’d been around covid patients. When we heard that, we were mad.”

But this is not a first for Meadows. “I was raised at UCLA during the beginning of AIDS. So this didn’t feel unfamiliar. I felt safe then too, and excited, just like now. At the beginning of this pandemic I said to [Dr. Villalobos] ‘Look, what you’re doing now is going to set you up for the rest of your career, because you’re never going to have something this bizarre again.’”

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Dr. Margaret Meadows: quite a year in dentistry.
Dr. Margaret Meadows: quite a year in dentistry.

“First thing we did when covid hit was lock the doors and put up this “STOP!” sign,” says Dr. Margaret Meadows.

But not for long. Except for the initial nine-week shutdown, Meadows’ dental office has been open for business. She and her partner, Dr. Melanie Villalobos, have spent months looking intimately into mouths, exchanging breaths, dealing with coughs close-range during the worst months of covid.

To me, that takes a kind of courage bordering on foolhardiness. But Meadows dismisses that notion.“Oh no, we take a crazy amount of precautions. We always check patients’ temperature, and get an oximeter reading. Oxygen levels. That’s because only 54 percent of Covid carriers exhibit elevated temperatures. When people’s oxygen is low, that is a good indicator of problems.’”

Meadows really shouldn’t be doing this. “After covid first hit, my rheumatologist said, ‘Margaret, you cannot do dentistry.’ Because I am auto-immune compromised. Also I have my husband to think of, and my mother. She is in her nineties.”

Drs Meadows and Villalobos, with Wally, the aerosol extraction assistant.

But Meadows told the rheumatologist, “‘You come to my office and tell me I cannot do it.’”

The fact is, Drs. Meadows and Villalobos have gone to extreme lengths to keep their practice covid-free. “We have two secret weapons: every room has open sliding doors to the outside and constant air movement. And then there’s Wally.”

She points to what looks like a little elephant with a big trunk. “Wally sucks up any extra droplets in the air. Remember, this virus is not airborne, it’s aerosolized. So, little droplets. Wally sucks them up. And we have three filters inside.”

“We have Hepa filters in every single room. Plus I have a face shield, which I wear upside-down, because the aerosols drop.”

And PPEs, surgical gowns? “Back in March, 2020, all the PPE was back-ordered, and we couldn’t even find a plastic bag to cover us,” says Villalobos. Finally I found a small business in Michigan which was making these.”

“Then we have gloves, glasses, masks, shields, shoes that we don’t wear outside the office,” says Meadows. “Same with clothes. And underneath, we also have PPE gowns. And scrubs. That sometimes got hot and sweaty. But we’re lucky. Every single operatory [surgery] has a door and window to the outside. We’re ambassadors for airflow!”

Meadows’, Villalobos’s patient-donated sign outside, first, a covid test.

So what did they do during their nine weeks of lockdown? “We took the opportunity to study, 4-6 hours a day, and then meet 4-6 hours a day on the phone, keeping up with CDC, friends and contacts in Asia and in Europe. To me it was a very intellectually stimulating time. And Dr. Melanie was just out of dental school! What an introduction to dentistry!

What about other dentists? Did they close down?

“Oh yes,” says Villalobos. “We’ve had patients call and tell us their offices completely abandoned them. And we even had a lot of medical professionals, nurses, doctors whose dental offices would not even see them, because they’d been around covid patients. When we heard that, we were mad.”

But this is not a first for Meadows. “I was raised at UCLA during the beginning of AIDS. So this didn’t feel unfamiliar. I felt safe then too, and excited, just like now. At the beginning of this pandemic I said to [Dr. Villalobos] ‘Look, what you’re doing now is going to set you up for the rest of your career, because you’re never going to have something this bizarre again.’”

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