Dr. Frank Conaway, who runs one of Bay St. Louis’s oldest dental practices, helped shape the rules that govern how dentists operate in this age of COVID-19. Here’s his story and what to expect on your next dental visit.
- Story by Dena Temple
“When I was looking to start my own practice, I came to visit and saw that the area needed a dentist, and I put two and two together,” he said.
That was back in 1990. Today, Dr. Conaway operates one of the oldest dental practices in the area and is one of few solo practices that remain, resisting the trend of multiple practitioners in one office. His close-knit support team keeps things running efficiently “I feel like at our practice, we have a family. It’s a little more personalized.”
Recently, the conversation turned to how his practice has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has changed the way we work, just like it’s changed everyone’s workplace,” Dr. Conaway explained. “But for me, there’s more to the story.”
Dr. Conaway sits on the state Board of Dental Examiners and is serving the last year of his six-year term in this position. “That means I’m the bad guy who comes up with all the rules about how the state’s dentists can operate safely,” he continued.
On your next visit to the dentist, he explained, things will look a little different. “First, you probably won’t see anyone in the waiting room,” he noted. “Usually we see one patient while we stage the next patient in a nearby exam room. Today we can’t do that. We see one patient, then when that person leaves, we completely disinfect the exam room. Only then do we bring in the next patient.”
There are also rules about social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and even how dental hygienists work, relying on hand-cleaning rather than employing mechanical cleaning devices, to avoid cross-contamination.
Dr. Conaway explained, too, that his practice was never shut down, as other businesses were. “The government felt it was important that we keep seeing emergency patients,” he said. “This helps keep them out of emergency rooms, which allows medical personnel to concentrate on the influx of COVID-19 patients.”
Dr. Conaway’s wife, Pauline, works alongside him in the dental office. “Some people say it’s tough to work with your spouse, that you bring the work home.” Conaway smiled. “We work very well together. We both like what we do, so there is no unhappiness to bring home. After 31 years together, we can run the practice like a well-oiled machine.”
The couple live here in Bay St. Louis and have three children: two daughters, aged 36 and 28, and a son, aged 25. They also spoil one granddaughter, said Dr. Conaway with a smile.
Spare time is a rare commodity in his life. “My work with the state Board of Dental Examiners keeps me very busy traveling between Bay St. Louis and Jackson,” he noted. “I’m kind of a workaholic – work is my hobby.”
He does find time to give back to the community by participating in a program run by the State of Mississippi where he donates dental services to the poor. The recipient pays nothing for these services. “I wish I could do more, but the Board of Dental Examiners is a big commitment.” He continued, “But my term ends this year, and I look forward to being able to be a more active member of the community.”
In his rare down time, he enjoys visiting his tree farm near Tylertown. “I enjoy the quiet,” he says wistfully. “Things can get pretty hectic in my life.”
But most times, you’ll find Dr. Conaway right here in Bay St. Louis. He loves its quirky, small-town ways. “It’s a great little town,” he says. “It’s easy to get to know everyone, and there’s a comfortable, small-town feel here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Dr. Conaway left us with this: “Don’t forget to floss.”