When the dentist is away: Safeguarding the practice

CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry is just around the corner and thousands of dentists and their teams will descend on San Francisco for the event. But what happens at their practices while they’re away? Who will care for their patients? And how can they make sure their properties are safe?

Whether attending an event such as CDA Presents, participating in an off-site team-building activity or simply taking a much-needed summer break, practice owners should take a few precautions to protect themselves and their practices before closing their doors for an extended period of time.

Taiba Solaiman, senior risk management analyst with The Dentists Insurance Company, notes three key areas for dentists to consider when shutting down their practices for longer than just a few days: protecting property from damage, preventing theft and implementing a protocol for patient emergencies.

“By addressing each of these areas, it’s possible for dentists to mitigate risk and liability,” she says. “In addition, it can provide additional peace of mind, allowing them to enjoy their time off.”

Property damage

According to TDIC, one of the most common causes of damage to a dental practice during periods of closure is flooding caused by burst water lines. During times of inactivity, water pressure can build up. Should there be a point of weakness in a line, it may then burst, resulting in extensive water damage throughout the office and occasionally adjacent suites. TDIC recommends dentists check their flexible water lines for evidence of weakness or damage before closing up.

Another option is shutting off the water to the suite altogether. Every dental office should have a water delivery shut-off valve and each staff member should be trained on how to use it. The valves should be checked prior to leaving the office to ensure they are working properly.

“Office flooding is one of the most common claims we receive,” Solaiman says. “Practice owners should be proactive in ensuring their water supply lines are in good working order to prevent damage.”


Another common threat facing dental practices during closures is theft. Closed businesses lure opportunistic thieves and dentists should take preventative measures to protect their valuables while out of the office. The best way to prevent theft is to use a few common-sense measures: make sure doors and windows are locked; secure laptops, cameras and any items of value that can be easily taken in a locked cabinet; install motion sensor lights; and activate alarm systems and surveillance cameras. It’s also a good idea to notify property management and building security of the office’s closure, as applicable.

TDIC observes that many thefts occur via unforced entry, meaning a thief simply entered a practice through an unlocked door or window. Making sure the practice is secure before closing can prevent crimes of opportunity from occurring.

Patient care

Dentists planning to be away from the office are obligated to make “reasonably careful” plans to provide emergency care to patients during their absence. “Reasonably careful” isn’t just a general guideline, it’s a standard of care. And dentists can be held liable should they fail to arrange backup care and a patient encounters a complication that would not have occurred had timely care been provided.

TDIC recommends dentists make arrangements with a colleague or nearby dental practice to provide emergency care or to hire a dentist to work in their practice while they are gone. Patients should be notified ahead of time, emergency contact information should be left on outgoing voicemail messages and these messages should be checked to ensure they are functioning properly. In addition, a list of specialists should be provided for referrals.

“Dentists should ensure that their patients are taken care of while they’re away,” Solaiman says. “Being reasonably careful means that they have established a protocol to address potential complications that demand immediate care.”

Upon return, dentists should review the charts of all patients who were seen in their absence and follow up with the practitioners who provided care. They should document any additional findings, including the covering dentist’s report in the patient’s chart and schedule follow-up appointments if necessary.

“Just because a colleague handled an emergency call doesn’t relieve you of professional responsibility for your patient,” Solaiman advises. “Professional standards dictate you should be informed about your patient’s oral health, whether or not you provided the care.” 

Conversely, dentists who step in to help while their colleagues are away should follow basic guidelines as well. TDIC recommends that covering dentists confirm the dates and times they are on duty, make sure they know how to gain access to patient records and discuss which patients are most likely to need emergency care, such as those who have had recent treatments.

“Advanced planning goes a long way,” Solaiman says. “And ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure your patients have access to emergency care while you’re gone.”

For more information, contact the TDIC Risk Management Advice Line at 800.733.0633, email Risk Management or visit tdicinsurance.com/advice-line.

Topics: Protection, TDIC

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