During these uneasy times, it is crucial to take the appropriate safeguards to protect your health and the health of your family. Social distancing and quarantining have proven effective in stopping the spread of the virus, but there is just one problem: even in a pandemic, some families still need access to their dentists.
“We are frontline healthcare providers and infection control experts,” says Dr. Joel Gould, founder of The Modern American Dentistry Group and author of the upcoming book The Modern Epidemic. “Most dentists are coping with this pandemic as best as possible, closing down, as requested, and then slowly resuming care.”
One question that many Americans find themselves asking is if it is even safe to go to the dentist when COVID-19 is still running rampant. There is currently no data available regarding the transmission of COVID-19 in dental offices, so we spoke with several renowned dentists and medical professionals around the country to find out what you can do to keep yourself safe during your next filling.
How could coronavirus spread in a dentist office?
Coronavirus lives in little respiratory droplets that carry the virus through your saliva or mucus. That means when you cough, sneeze or shout, you are pushing those droplets out into the air where they look for a place to land. Both masks and social distancing can keep you safe from these droplets because with no one and nothing to land on, the droplets fall to the floor where they are no longer harmful.
The CDC warns of rotary dentist equipment like ultrasonic scalers and air-water syringes, which create a dangerous spray. These particles can include any number of particles, including water, blood, saliva and microorganisms and pose a significant risk to anyone that is around. Masks help protect against the spray, but you can still inhale particles in the air.
Dr. Glenn Vo is a well-known dentist and public speaker in Texas, where he owns Denton Smiles Dentistry. He knows some patients are worried but feels that proper safety precautions can help to assuage those fears. “In our profession as dentists, we are breaking social distancing every single day as we're working very closely in people's mouths,” he says. “There's saliva flying around, and we're seeing multiple patients a day.”
Despite that, he still finds it safe to visit the dentist. “The proof is, if we were in danger, we'd see a surge of dentists being infected and massive deaths in the dental community, but we don't,” he shrugs. “Dentists have always practiced strict infection control. Now we've taken it an extra step in that we're wearing face shields and gowns, and we have air purifiers in our practices to make it even safer for patients.
Should I visit the dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic?
On August 11, 2020, the World Health Organization advised people to delay non-emergency dental care in areas with community spread. “WHO guidance recommends in case of community transmission to give priority to urgent or emergency oral cases, to avoid or minimise procedures that may generate aerosol, prioritise a set of clinical interventions that are performed using an instrument and of course to delay routine non-essential oral health care,” said WHO dental expert Benoit Varenne.
However, the very next day, the American Dental Association (ADA) issued a statement disagreeing with the WHO. “Oral health is integral to overall health. Dentistry is essential health care,” said ADA President Chad P. Gehani, D.D.S. “Millions of patients have safely visited their dentists in the past few months for the full range of dental services.”
While he recommends that dentists suit up in masks, goggles and face shields to protect themselves, he urges patients not to put off needed visits. “Your health could depend on it. Beyond teeth and gums, the mouth also serves as a window to the rest of the body and can show signs of infection, nutritional deficiencies and systemic diseases.”
The CDC is closely following the advice of ADA, even referring visitors to the ADA website for additional resources. The ADA also maintains the ADA Coronavirus (COVD-19) Center for Dentists, so that doctors and oral professionals can make the appropriate changes, adding the right safeguards to ensure your safety. The CDC also suggests your state and local health departments for advice on how to proceed. State dental boards can be another helpful resource.
What measures are dentists taking to prevent COVID-19?
There are many precautions that dentists all over the country are taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus in their offices.
- Heightened attention to hand-washing guidelines and protocols
- Requiring face mask
- Cleaning, sterilizing, replacing and covering tools when not in use
- Disinfecting surfaces
- Wearing additional protective clothing
- Using rubber dental dams to cover and protect a patient’s mouth
- Removing books, papers, toys and magazines that can all spread the virus
- Spaced-out appointments for less interaction between patients
Waiting rooms and lobbies are being redesigned to accommodate social distancing with six feet between seats, and the check-in process has changed for many offices, too. To help with the new limited seating, many offices are preventing any visitors other than guardians and caregivers. When you arrive, you will likely have your temperature checked while you are asked about any recent travel or any contact with infected family and friends.
Some offices are taking even more precautions. Dr. J. Salim, D.M.D, is the owner and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates, which reopened on June 1, 2020. “Dental offices have reopened and have had to implement protective measures for both patients and staff,” he explains. “Many dentists, including us at Sutton Place Dental Associates, have gone well above and beyond requirements and recommendations.”
Protective measures in Dr. Salim’s offices include disposable barriers over the surfaces in common areas and barriers between administrative staff and patients. But that’s not all. “Finally, we thoroughly clean the entire office and disinfect it several times throughout the day. This process culminates with the fumigation of all the rooms with antiviral and antibacterial sanitizing vapors at the end of each working day.”
These extra measures help keep his offices as safe as possible so he can welcome patients with confidence. “Being at a dental office is, more than likely, the safest place to be when in public.”
The decision to schedule or delay your dental appointment is a personal one
Whether to delay your dentist visit all depends on your personal feelings of safety. You do not want to miss your appointment if you are experiencing a dental emergency that is causing symptoms like pain, excessive bleeding, swelling, broken teeth, infection, alterations to crowns or dentures, or trouble breathing.
There are also non-urgent treatments that are considered elective procedures, meaning that these can feasibly wait until later. Popular elective treatments include:
- Teeth cleaning and whitening
- Orthodontic check-in
- Cosmetic issues
When you visit the dentist, there are some things that you can do to better protect yourself. Dr. Diana Wu, D.D.S. at Issaquah Premier Dental in Washington recommends the use of mouthwash as an additional disinfectant. She has her patients “pre-rinse and post-rinse with a mouthwash containing oxidative agents that can reduce the spread of the virus.”
Her office features online patient screening, waived appointment cancellation fees and leave for ill staff. Issaquah Premier Dental also offers its patients a coronavirus guide on its website, which includes all sorts of COVID resources and even a video walking you through all of the changes that the practice has made.
Dentists all over the country are taking coronavirus just as seriously as the experts, looking to the ADA for advice on the best procedures to protect you and your family, in addition to theirs.
The bottom line
Coronavirus has struck fear in many ways in our lives, and our regular dentist visit is just another way that COVID has altered the way that we live in 2020. However, dentists are some of the best-equipped professionals to protect you during coronavirus because they already take extra precautions in their offices.
“Dental offices were always the most prepared healthcare teams protecting patients from cross-contamination, even before COVID,” explains Dr. Mark Dialtush, CEO of New Patients, Inc. “Dentistry always leads the healthcare fields in infection control and will continue to do so.”