Dentists in southern and central Maine say it’s becoming more difficult to replenish their supply of medical masks – routinely used by dentists and hygienists – because demand has soared as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.

Dr. Brian Brunacini, a Falmouth dentist, said his practice has about a two-month supply of masks on hand, but since the coronavirus outbreak has worsened, it’s been more difficult to order more.

“It’s becoming apparent there’s a squeeze,” Brunacini said. “The scary part is the unknown. We don’t know what it will look like in a month or two.”

Brunacini said about 15 employees, including hygienists and three dentists, need masks at his Falmouth Dental Arts practice, and they go through 40 to 50 per day.

The situation is not yet acute, but dentists said it is becoming increasingly difficult to order the masks. News accounts report similar problems facing dentists in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina and in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. CNN is reporting a worldwide shortage of medical masks because of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 100,000 worldwide, and caused more than 3,300 deaths.

Cases of coronavirus – COVID-19 – have increased in the United States, with more than 230 cases reported as of Friday evening.

There are not yet any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine, but 18 patients are being tested, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The results are expected back from federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs in a few days.

Masks are part of the standard of care for dentists, both to protect them from splattering blood and saliva and to protect patients from infection.

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, an Augusta dentist and past president of the Maine Dental Association, said he’s personally had orders cancelled and heard from other dentists who have had similar difficulties. Some suppliers have capped the number of masks one practice can order, so they must order from several to get the same number of masks.

“The situation has deteriorated over the past week. Most (dentists) are OK for now,” Shenkin said. “But in a few weeks that may change.”

Shenkin said disinfecting supplies are also in short supply.

“Hand sanitizer is getting virtually impossible to come by,” Shenkin said.

 

 

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