CHICAGO (CBS) — Many people dread going to the dentist, and now some hygienists do too.

One hygienist told CBS 2 she is worried about cleanings leading to the spread of COVID-19 as offices reopen.

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CBS 2’s Lauren Victory asked, how risky is a trip to the dentist?

“I have trouble sleeping at night,” said an anonymous dental hygienist. “I feel sick about it.”

The hygienist is afraid for the safety of her patients, for her health

“It’s just not safe, and it’s going to spread like wildfire,” she said. “We’re not protected and the patients aren’t protected.”

She is also afraid for her job.

“The office is open, so you either go back or you’re quitting,” the hygienist said.

That is why the dental hygienist asked to remain anonymous.

“When you have a home and things like that, and children, you’re put in a hard position,” she said.

The hygienist said high-tech cleaning equipment, which sprays water into patients’ mouths, can create aerosols. And if a patient has COVID-19, those water droplets can cause the virus to spread.

“Yes, we’re at higher risk,” said Dr. Stacey Van Scoyoc, the vice president of the Illinois State Dental Society and a practicing dentist, “but we do everything we can do to decrease any risks that are presented into our offices.”

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Scoyoc only lets her hygienists use manual tools – not devices that create aerosols. But not every office has taken that precaution.

“We’ve been told to do everything as we had done it before,” said the anonymous hygienist.

But Scoyoc noted, “There are several things you can do to reduce aerosols.”

She said hygienists can use the vacuum cleaner-like device that is placed in patients’ mouths.

“It’s the suction,” Scoyoc said. “If you close your mouth on it, it feels like it sucks your tongue.”

However, Scoyoo said: “No, it cannot do 100 percent, so there is a risk. It’s just the nature of our job that there is a risk that we’re very much aware of.”

The University of Chicago’s chief epidemiologist emphasized that aerosols can indeed increase the spread of COVID-19.

“Dental procedures are kind of risky endeavors,” said Dr. Emily Landon. “Treating people as though they may be contagious with COVID is probably the prudent thing to do – time to put on a N95 mask and eye protection.”

And since there is not an endless supply of personal protective equipment, hygienists should wear a face shield over their mask and clean it after seeing each patient.

“We all do whatever we need to do to make sure we’re being safe,” Scoyoc said.

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The experts also told us that patients should be screened for symptoms before they come into the office, wear a mask whenever possible, and limit contact with the staff by waiting in their cars instead of the waiting room.

Lauren Victory