It’s time to go back to the dentist!
Dental offices were largely shuttered across the United States after being advised in mid-March by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association to close their practices to all but emergency care.
The hope was that by allowing dentists to continue to treat serious cases — such as pain and infections — those patients would stay out of hospital emergency rooms, where medical workers were busy with severely ill Coronavirus cases. And because the personal protective gear dentists and other health care providers need was in short supply and being seized to go to hospitals, routine dental checkups and cleanings were deemed nonessential, at least initially.
The concern about the risk of transmission of COVID-19 during a visit to the dentist is understandable. Dental settings have unique characteristics that warrant specific infection control considerations, reports the Division of Oral CDC’s COVID-19 Response Infection Prevention Control Team. By following recommendations for their practices that all dentists should be following will significantly mitigate that risk.
“Dental health care personnel use instruments such as drills, ultrasonic scalers, and air-water syringes that create a visible spray that can contain particle droplets of water, saliva, blood, and microorganisms.”
Large droplets can land in a 6-foot radius in the exam room and can contaminate counters and flat surfaces. This has ALWAYS been a reality in a dental office. And that is why dental offices always disinfect all surfaces before the next patient arrives. Those droplets can remain in the air for a short time and potentially spread the virus, unless stringent precautions are taken — such as providing personal protective equipment for staff and disinfecting the treatment room, equipment, and surfaces between patients, in addition to the use of air purifiers/filters.
Despite these potential risks, the good news is that both the World Health Organization and the CDC say there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 transmitted in a dental office so far!!
It is of course natural to be wary of any situation that could put a person at risk.
Patients, in general, are confident enough after experiencing all those extra precautions to schedule a follow-up appointment, if treatment is necessary.
- Screen patients before each appointment and when they arrive, for symptoms of COVID-19 — such as cough and fever — and postpone if they have symptoms or any hints of an issue that could indicate they have the virus.
- When possible use multiple dental workers when doing aerosol-generating procedures to speed up the visit and minimize exposure.
- Install high-efficiency particulate HEPA air filters to improve room filtration. Research suggests this scrubs the air and reduces the transmission of airborne particles.
Dentists know at least some patients continue to be worried enough to stay away, even if they’re in pain or overdue for important procedures such as root canal surgery. Delaying checkups or care for dental pain can potentially turn a small cavity into a root canal or tooth extraction, and add to treatment time, higher costs, and even more pain. Dentists have a vested interest in taking all possible precautions.
Dentists are typically 12 to 18 inches away from their patients. To do their work dentists have to lean close into what currently is the most infectious part of a person if they have COVID-19 — their mouth. Protecting their health and that of their staff working in the office is paramount!