College Place High School students Claurisa Davidson and Garrett Green have come to the assistance of more than 50 Walla Walla Valley dentists and dental hygienists.
In less than a week, Davidson and Green have used 3D printers they built in their homes to make plastic protective face shields specifically designed for dental professionals, with space for their lights and magnifiers.
As nonurgent dental care resumes Monday and — barring any additional proclamations or or restrictions from the governor — the full scope of dental care services returns Tuesday, face shields are part of the required tools of the trade.
“It’s cool because even though this isn’t necessarily something we’re doing for school, here we are making an impact in the community,” Davidson said.
For dentists, reopening comes with new rules.
Dr. Patrick Sharkey, of Alder Family Dental in Walla Walla, has been staying apprised on the changes as a board member of Washington State Dental Association attending its twice weekly meetings via Zoom.
Sharkey relays those discussions to the Walla Walla Dental Society in newsletters.
However, it was actually the Washington Dental Quality Assurance Commission that made face shields mandatory, along with surgical masks, Sharkey said.
The problem for local dentists, he explained, was that only hospitals were permitted to acquire face shields.
“Nobody was making what we needed,” Sharkey said. “What were we going to do?”
With barely a week remaining before the expected reopening community service advocates like Davidson and Green turned their homes into factories to help solve the problem.
The students’ manufacturing productions might not have been possible without the College Place Dream Lab, a career technology education class taught by retired Navy officer Byron Trop.
The program has been described as a shop class, only more modern (think, 21st century), with students learning not only how to design and build a motor, how to operate a 3D printer or a plasma cutter, but also coordinate sales, marketing and deadlines.
When school closed mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Dream Labs students turned their problem-solving attention to the needs of the community.
Davidson and Green had each already placed an order for the kit to build their own customized 3D printers, costing about $300 with some extras, and they wasted little time putting them to work.
“After school shut down, the kits arrived so Mr. Trop went to our houses and dropped off all the parts,” Davidson said. “We still had to build them and then program them — programming was a bit tricky — and we made some additions so you can do more things, but once we did that, we could start making things.”
Less than two weeks after schools closed, Davidson began using her 3D printer to make face shields for local nurses.
She quickly got Green involved, and the two began coordinating their work with weekly Zoom meetings.
Trop contacted Regency at the Park, upping the order, and by the second week of May, the duo had produced and delivered more than 150 face shields to local nurses.
“My mom is an OBGYN nurse at Providence St. Mary’s, and she was saying how they needed shields, and asked if that was something I could build,” Davidson said. “They had masks, but the face shields cover more, so we found these files on the internet, at the CDC website, with how the shields are supposed to be designed, and we started making them.”
Word soon got to Sharkey.
Kent Christiansen, Sharkey’s hygienist at Alder Family Dental, had overheard his son Luke, a freshman at College Place High and a fellow Dream Lab student, talking about the face shields efforts for hospitals.
Sharkey mentioned a potential new source of face shields in his next newsletter for the Walla Walla Dental Society, and the immediate response practically knocked him out.
“It was this outpour: ‘Put my name on the list,’” Sharkey said. “I told Kent, this went viral with dentists in town. We had 25 dentists asking about the face shields, for themselves and for their hygienists. If you can get us these shields by Monday, that would be awesome.”
Barely a week before the May 18 reopenings, Davidson and Green adjusted their shield designs for dentists, and kicked their 3D printers into high gear.
“Garrett and Luke worked on the design, and testing how to make it fit best,” Davidson said. “Then we’d get feedback from the dentists, and might have to tweak something.”
Sharkey has arranged for Alder Family Dental to receive the whole shipment from Davidson and Green today to distribute to dentists from around the Valley free of charge.
“The bottom line is the dentists in the Walla Walla Valley are blessed,” said Sharkey, who has already tested a prototype. “The shield is high quality and light. Well made. I’m impressed. It really fills a need. I’m tickled to be working with these students.”
Sharkey expects face shields are here to stay at the dentist’s office.
“I suspect this is going to be the new norm,” Sharkey said. “Once we see what’s actually going to show up on these shields, we’re going to want to protect ourselves from things like the cold, the flu, and COVID and other things.”
For now though, Sharkey looks forward to resuming his practice.
“This has been very stressful,” he said. “May 18 has been a moving target. Are you going to end up with hundreds of cases that we had to push back? What’s going to be the new standard of care? The wait is just exhausting.
“This week, we finalized a schedule where we’re seeing just half the normal amount,” Sharkey said. “We’ll see how the flow goes. Once we can get a clear grasp of the tendencies, we might be able to push things back to more like they were.”