Dental practices are adapting how they work in and around a patient’s mouth to account for this complicated reality. Dentists are screening patients for symptoms, limiting the number of appointments in a day, implementing stringent sanitation protocols and wearing more protective equipment to guard against the respiratory disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization suggest that respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or breathes are the primary way the virus spreads. But the CDC reports there’s “no data available to assess the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission during dental practice.”
The Washington Post has been fielding thousands of reader questions about life during the coronavirus pandemic and many have asked whether they should go to upcoming dentist appointments. Dentists and public-health experts are concerned that Americans are putting off routine cleanings, which could compound health issues in the months or years to come.
“Dentistry is not an elective procedure,” said Purnima Kumar, a professor of periodontology at Ohio State University. “They’re important to your mouth health, as well as to the health of the rest of your body.”
In March, the CDC recommended that dentists conduct only emergency procedures for patients who’d otherwise end up in overworked emergency rooms. Since then, states across the country have largely lifted stay-at-home restrictions, businesses are starting to reopen and dentists are taking regular check-ins. The American Dental Association and the CDC are providing practical guidance on how practices should proceed with dental procedures while limiting face-to-face interactions.
Bill Miller, an epidemiologist and physician at OSU, said it’s important to remember that going to the dentist isn’t the same as going to a barber or hair salon.
“Dentists are accustomed to be thinking about infectious-disease risk,” Miller said. “They’re already taking precautions.”
Talk to your practitioner, find out how appointments have changed.
Even before you walk through the door to see the dentist, you’ll notice some changes.
Dental offices are calling patients two or three days before their appointment to ask whether they’re experiencing any common covid-19 symptoms, such as a fever, cough or muscle aches.
Of course, a fever can also be a common symptom for an oral health issue like an abscess, a tooth infection caused by an untreated cavity. In those cases, Kumar said, patients will also notice swelling and acute pain in their mouth. Kumar said she would then prescribe an antibiotic to help the fever drop before having the patient come in for an appointment.
Anything that can be done over the phone or email, from payments to health questionnaires, should be done. Kumar said she has even been on FaceTime with patients to physically see what the problem may be.
“My phone’s constantly blowing up with text messages…