Candra Juniar Amiarno, a 38-year-old dentist living in East Jakarta, was forced to stop practicing after the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country in early March.
“I was not allowed to practice by my mother because the risk for dentists was very high,” she told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “I’m honestly scared [to continue my dental practice during the outbreak].”
As dozens of doctors and medical workers have been exposed and killed fighting the outbreak, dentists were also putting their lives on the line as the Indonesian Dentists Association (PDGI) announced that at least six dentists had died due to the pneumonia-like illness.
PDGI chair Sri Hananto Seno said dental and oral examination left patients, dentists and assistants vulnerable to contracting the disease as they were exposed to droplets, which were the main method of transmission.
“[The droplets] can end up on the clothes of dentists and assistants, which can cause transmission between them and other patients coming in for an examination,” Hananto told the Post on Thursday.
Candra also said that using drills during a dental examination could spread very fine water particles in the air that could carry the coronavirus for up to three hours, requiring the whole dental examination room and equipment to be disinfected every 30 minutes.
Minding the danger, the association has advised the public to only see dentists for emergency and serious dental problems during the outbreak. In the meantime, it also has urged dentists to reduce their hours, especially those above 60 years old.
Hananto said most dentists had complied with the warning, adding that only 30 percent of all dentists in Jakarta were still practicing in hospitals to handle emergencies, such as oral bleeding and severe dental pain.
While limiting dental practices is seen as necessary to ensure safety and curb transmissions, the policy has also caused dentists to lose their source of income.
“[My income] has been severely affected, as fewer hours mean a smaller income,” Candra said.
Pedestrians walk on a bridge in Jakarta on April 9. Jakarta has applied large-scale social restrictions, which will be enforced until midnight on April 24 and could be extended. (JP/ Seto Wardhana )
Diana Kusriyanti, a 42-year-old dentist living in Tangerang, also said her monthly revenue had dropped by almost 90 percent.
“My income has decreased while basic necessities have become more expensive. My mortgage and credit obligations cannot be fulfilled either,” she told the Post on Wednesday.
Seeing the dire financial situation of dentists, Hananto advised doctors to be patient and start living frugally, reminding that the outbreak had also economically impacted workers in other industries.
“I’ve closed my dental practice for more than three weeks now, so I’ve started living modestly and avoiding excess,” he said. “We will manage as long as we start managing our spending better and save money,”.
“It is better than me insisting on opening up my dental practice and contracting the disease. If that happened, my family and I would regret that for life,”. He added.
Hananto also said the inability to make payments had also affected many new dentists that had invested in new dental equipment and office space.
He, however, noted that the government had issued a policy to extend loan payment deadlines for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) for up to one year to help them cope with the effects of the outbreak.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the new relaxation would apply to business loans worth up to Rp 10 billion (US$619,118), both from banks and non-bank institutions.
“The association has also requested that postponement of installments as dentists are only treating emergency cases now,” Hananto said.
He also reminded dentists still practicing to always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), adding that the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the COVID-19 task force had been donating PPE to the association.
“Keep our families safe by not practicing for now. Hopefully, this COVID-19 outbreak will pass and we can practice as usual,” he said.
As of Monday morning, the country had recorded 4,241 cases of COVID-19 with 373 fatalities and 359 recoveries, as published by the Health Ministry on its official website on emerging diseases, infeksiemerging.kemkes.go.id.