FOX 11 Investigates: Dentists' struggle for PPE during COVID-19 crisis

'Personal Protective Equipment' or PPE is already a part of a dentist’s wardrobe with the mask, the gloves, and eye protection.    

As dentists start to treat more patients at their practices, the CDC is asking dentists to add another layer of protection.    

The problem is the unprecedented demand and lack of access to that PPE. The dentists' Marla Tellez spoke to, including one she knows personally, say they’re not getting the help they need from the state.

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“Dentists definitely need to be considered. It is very, very frustrating,” says Dr. John Blake.

“It's really uncharted territory and I actually don't know what we will do,” says Dr. Leah DeBerardinis.

Two dentists in two parts of the state facing the same problem.“We don't have access to what we need at this point in time,” says Dr. DeBerardinis.

Limited to no access to 'Personal Protective Equipment' or PPE is the new reality for Dr. DeBerardinis who owns Hillcrest Dental in the Bay Area, an office where I’ve been treated before.

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Some 450 miles south in Long Beach, Dr. John Blake and his team are doing their best to treat underserved children at the “Children’s Dental Health Clinic” with just enough PPE to get them through the next couple of weeks.

“If that runs dry there is no dental care happening here,” says Dr. Blake. Dr. Blake and Dr. DeBerardinis are representative of California’s 36,000 dentists tasked with getting their hands on PPE they say is simply not available. 

Without it, they’ll have no choice but to close.“Right now, we're only receiving one box of masks weekly which is 50 masks,” says Dr. DeBerardinis.

Fifty surgical masks a week for an office that can go through at least 70 a day. 

Dr. DeBerardinis’ typically stocked shelves now sparse. As for the N95 respirator mask, The Dentists Supply Company’s website tells the story: temporarily unavailable.

“We’re in a desperate battle to simply get the PPE on behalf of dentists,” says Jim Wiggett, Interim CEO of “The Dentists Supply Company” - a subsidiary of the California Dental Association.

With the state’s PPE reserves going to hospital workers on the frontlines, Wiggett says he spends his days searching for the coveted gear, but most everything online is a scam.“We have, at this point, over 400 leads, 70% of which we’ve already identified as fakes and counterfeits,” says Wiggett.

Wiggett says he’s lobbying the state for more resources.  Also, for answers as to why the State gave the CDA one million N95 masks in March, only to order the shipment back days later.  

“The state of California came in and grabbed the million masks back from us. We’ve never seen them since. So, in every communication we have with the governor we actively raise - about those million masks you took back? Our dentists still need those,” says Wiggett.

FOX 11 questioned Governor Newsom about that shipment.

His office referred us to the California Department of Public Health, which sent us this statement:

“Governor Newsom discussed the state’s efforts to continue acquiring and immediately distributing PPE for health care workers during his press conference today.”  

Here’s that moment from Governor Newsom’s May 7th press conference:

“Critical nature of the PPE. Critical nature of getting masks not just for those that are on the frontlines in our health care sector, but broadening the front lines to the grocery lines,” remarked Newsom.

For Dr. Blake and Dr. DeBerardinis, absent of a clear answer, the struggle to acquire PPE continues.“As much as we can nudge. He owes us one right? We’d love to get our mask resources back,” says Dr. Blake.

Dr. DeBerardinis doesn’t mince words: “We will not work if we don’t have access to that PPE.”

This story was reported on from Los Angeles