Dentist takes over practice amid global pandemic

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff photoDr. Katerina Chernykhivska wears a protective plastic shield over her face and uses a special vacuum, at left, that removes particles from the air while she examines Kelsey Harrington's teeth Thursday at her dental clinic in Amesbury.

AMESBURY — A glove shortage has become the latest COVID-19-related problem for the city's newest dentist to solve.

Dr. Katerina Chernykhivska bought Dr. Sanford Greenberg's practice, Amesbury Family Dental on Elm Street, in late December.

Greenberg had practiced dentistry in Amesbury since 1981 and Chernykhivska, a Ukrainian native, was pleased to take over a well-known practice. Chernykhivska said doing it in the middle of a global pandemic hasn't added all that many headaches.

"Dentistry is really tailored for these types of situations," she said. "We did install extra oral suctions and different air filtration systems in the office. But the majority of the things that we were already doing in dentistry is right in line with what is now required because of the pandemic."

Certain dental procedures such as ultrasonic scaling now require a practitioner to wear an N95 mask and a face shield, according to Chernykhivska.

"The extra mask with a face shield has made it a little bit tougher but a lot of the things have stayed the same for us," she said. "But the COVID screenings and the temperature checks are a new thing."

Although all of the personal protective equipment can be cumbersome and unusual, it has also made many of her patients comfortable, according to Chernykhivska.

"We really haven't had any negative responses," she said. "But we do need to be cautious about whether or not we see a patient. Even if someone isn't sick, if they have a runny nose or something, we will probably reschedule them. It is an inconvenience, but they have been happy overall."

Chernykhivska said the biggest challenge for her staff of five has been acquiring personal protective equipment, such as surgical gloves.

"Fortunately, Dr. Greenberg left me a reasonable supply," she said. "But we are in the middle of a glove shortage right now, believe it or not. The gloves are still available but they are much more pricey. We have almost had to call and check on the stock every day for the past month or so."

Massachusetts Dental Society President Dr. MaryJane Hanlon said she has been hearing the same from other dentists.

"I don't know what the determining factor is," Hanlon said. "But there could be a bunch of things happening that have a downward effect on us."

Chernykhivska said roughly 85% of her patients are comfortable with going to the dentist in the midst of a pandemic.

"There has been a small group of people who have not really come in due to COVID," Chernykhivska said. "But for the most part, we have been able to continue on as normal with the occasional rescheduling."

Hanlon said Chernykhivska's numbers reflect the national trend.

"It's about 15% of the patients, nationwide, that aren't coming back," Hanlon said. "This group of patients are not going to come back because they don't feel safe. They are going to wait to be vaccinated. So, if this patient population does not fall within the category of over 65 with comorbidities, they will be in Phase 3. That won't happen until late spring. So it will be a long time before they head back."

Chernykhivska said she prefers to focus on forward-thinking preventive care.

"A lot of times you see a cavity and fill it in dentistry," Chernykhivska said. "But that doesn't arrest the disease that is going on. I prefer to work with patients to see what we can do to keep from getting any future ones."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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