Coronavirus and Dental Care

After asking dental offices to stop non-urgent visits and surgeries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the CDC now recommend that dental teams weigh the risk in their area with the need to provide care for patients. Here’s what you should know about dental care as some cities and states reopen.

Is the Dentist’s Office Safe?

You come into contact with germs any time you leave your home. But all health care workers should follow certain safety guidelines. Your dentist and others working with them should wash their hands and sterilize tools. Some gear and needles are never reused. But your dentist’s office may do even more to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like:

  • Disinfect all surfaces and tools more often
  • Clean, replace, and cover tools between uses
  • Wear more protective gear than usual
  • Cover your mouth with a rubber dental dam

They may also:

  • Space out appointments
  • Call you before your appointment to ask about your health
  • Check your temperature and other symptoms
  • Require you to wear a face mask
  • Ask about your recent travel
  • Ask whether you’ve been around people who have COVID-19
  • Tell you not to arrive early
  • Ask you to limit the number of people you bring with you, such as children
  • Have you wait outside until they’re ready for you
  • Place waiting room chairs 6 feet apart for social distancing
  • Get rid of common things people touch in the waiting room, such as toys and magazines

What to Think About Before Going to the Dentist

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets. That’s what flies through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. If another person breathes this in, they can get sick. It’s also in the mucus and saliva in your mouth and throat. Those are fluids your dentist and their tools easily come in contact with. Some dental devices can spray these droplets around.

Many dental offices aren’t designed for high levels of protection. That’s because many don’t have:

  • Airborne infection isolation rooms
  • Rooms for one client
  • Any or enough N95 face masks

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What Are Non-Urgent Treatments?

These are sometimes called elective procedures. It’s dental work that doesn’t affect your health right now. In other words, you can put it off until later if you’re worried about COVID-19. Some examples include:

What Is an Emergency Treatment?

The ADA says something should be treated right away if it’s life-threatening or if it causes severe pain or a high risk of infection. Generally, your dentist decides what’s urgent. This may include:

  • Serious pain
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Tissue that needs a biopsy
  • Swollen areas in or around your mouth (gums, face, or neck)
  • Broken teeth, especially if they cause pain or tissue damage
  • Signs of infection (pain and swelling)
  • Post-surgery care you can’t do yourself
  • A temporary crown that’s lost or broken
  • Dental work related to cancer treatment
  • Dentures that don’t work the right way
  • Wires in your braces that hurt
  • Trauma that may affect your ability to breathe

Call your dentist if you have questions about your dental care and whether you should come in for an appointment or wait until later. If they can’t see you during an emergency, try an urgent care center. Don’t go to the ER unless your dentist isn’t available.

Tell your dentist if you have COVID-19 or think you do. Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There are special steps they can take to lower the chances that the virus will spread. They’ll work with you and your doctor to get you the right care.

Let your dental office know if you start feeling ill with COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of your appointment. You could have been carrying the virus at that time and possibly have spread it to other people.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 01, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Oral Health,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Protect Yourself; Dental Settings.”

American Dental Association: “ADA Calls on Dentists to Postpone Elective Procedures,” “What Is a Dental Emergency?” “What Constitutes a Dental Emergency?”

NYC Health Department: “Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Journal of Dental Research: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Emerging and Future Challenges for Dental and Oral Medicine.”

MouthHealthy.org: “Infection Control.”

Wisconsin Dental Association: “ADA Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions.”

University of Washington School of Dentistry: “Important Notice To Patients.”

Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine: “A Notice to Patients: Coronavirus.”

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