“Dentist-ing” In The Age of COVID

By Christopher Hughey

Today’s blog is a Guest Blog by Charlotte dentist Dr. Charles Payet. Since 1999, Dr. Payet has been the sole dentist & owner of Smiles by Payet Dentistry at the corner of Park Rd. & Abbey Place in Charlotte.  He earned a dual B.A. in Biology & German at UNC Chapel Hill in 1994 and his DDS at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Dentistry in 1998.  He and his wife, Fara (who runs the office most capably) met in Charlotte in 2005 and married here in 2006.  They have 2 daughters, 2 dogs, and live in south Charlotte. You can follow Dr. Payet and his practice on Twitter and Facebook.

5-minute read

Let’s see…what day is today?  Monday? Friday? Sat-wed-sun-day?  Oh hell, it doesn’t matter, because without getting to work on patients, they all blend together.  Not because of alcohol, but as a dentist, who doesn’t bear the responsibility for the business side of my practice, I don’t have a way to tell the difference.  My wife handles all that stuff.  Normally it’s a great division of labor, but not so much at the moment. 

We closed our office just after lunchtime on Monday, March 16th.  I’d followed the news from Italy closely over that weekend and could see what was coming to the US.  It was a hard decision, because as a small business, neither our employees nor we get paid if we aren’t working.  No patients = no revenue, so how would we pay the rent, our office and equipment loans, and accounts payable already incurred the previous month?  What would our employees do?  What could we do for them? There was (and even now still is) so much uncertainty surrounding the supplemental unemployment insurance for them, the loan possibilities for the office, etc.  Would our mortgage lender let us defer payments? Online applications frequently crashed; my wife was on hold for hours trying to reach our lenders and vendors about deferments and extending/increasing lines of credit, only to be suddenly cut off.

We’re still waiting for the $10,000 EIDL loan to arrive to our account.  The Paycheck Protection Program though?  Well, we decided to wait on applying for that, as we didn’t want to be forced to hire our team back, if we still don’t know when we can open.  As of Thursday, April 17th, that fund has been fully used up, and Congress is in recess, so no one knows what will happen next for small businesses like ours, which hadn’t yet applied for, or received, any money.

I’ve seen 5-6 patients in the last month, and it’s frustrating.  I love dentistry and helping people, but I can’t do that now.  Like many dentists, I’m moderately Type A and thrive on the pressure of a full schedule of patients.  I’m a general dentist, but with more than 1,800 hours of advanced training since graduation, I provide a variety of advanced surgical and prosthetic services, along with fillings, check-ups, cleanings, etc.  At the moment, because we are unable to source adequate PPE for our team, and because of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 transmission, we’re limited to life-threatening emergencies and writing prescriptions.

Relatively speaking, we have no right to complain about our situation.  Thanks to my wife’s financial savvy, our personal financial situation is solid, even if we stay shut down for 5-6 months.  We live in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood, we’re all healthy, we have plenty of ways to entertain ourselves. This includes our newly adopted American English Coonhound, Hershey, whose youthful energy keeps us moving.  We are admittedly privileged.  Because of that, we’ve doubled our charitable donations to both local and national non-profits, focusing on groups that support those most in need.

One of the most frustrating feelings right now though, is the feeling of being useless and unable to help our physician colleagues.  We dentists often get irritated by people calling us “not a real doctor.”  After all, we do have to study most of the same basic medical subjects for the first 2 years of dental school.  It doesn’t diverge greatly from medical school until year 3, when we begin caring for patients and start our rotations. But in following so many physicians on Twitter, and having joined a few COVID-19 related FB groups, I’ve realized just how little we do know of medicine. The terminology, diagnostic criteria, etc. are all radically different, especially when colleagues talk to each other. We all have to use layman’s language when speaking with patients, but when physicians talk among themselves, it’s all Greek to me. And even though I wish I could go volunteer at a hospital, I realize how useless I’d be.  There’s not much worse for any type of doctor than the feeling of being useless and helpless.

So I do what I (and my family) can do: we stay home so we don’t get sick and burden the doctors and nurses of Charlotte’s hospitals even more. I do try to help counter misinformation online, but I get so frustrated by the ignorance that I lose my cool.  That doesn’t help anyone. 

So we play games, read books, read too much on Twitter & Facebook, walk our dogs and exercise, and try to maintain a semblance of normal sleep.

At least the setting and rising of the sun makes it easy to tell when one day ends and another day begins.  Even if I still don’t know what day it is.