The Covid-19 pandemic continues to dominate headlines in the United States and worldwide. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the virus is impacting work places and none more so than the healthcare industry. Guidelines are changing and it is looking more and more as if these guidelines will be kept in place even after the pandemic wanes.
The dental industry has been impacted with changing guidelines. Many offices were forced to close initially, but have reopened with strict protocols to protect patients as well as the dental office staff. There are a number of types of dental offices within the industry including the general dentist, periodontist, orthodontist, oral and maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontist and endodontist.
Most dental professionals agree that elective procedures and surgery should be avoided during the pandemic. There are a number of dental issues that still need to be attended to especially since the link to your overall health and dental health is well established. After all, the goal is to avoid an emergency dental issue.
Is It Safe To Visit Your Dentist?
It is perfectly acceptable to call your dentist or oral surgeon and ask if they are following the most current safety guidelines for Covid-19. They should be able to tell you what steps they are taking to protect you, other patients and their staff. The first line of defense should be that all staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE), follow hand washing protocol and use sterilized tools.
In addition, they may also take the following steps:
- Spacing out appointments to have less patients in the office
- Asking patients to rinse with a special disinfectant wash before treatment
- Disinfecting all surfaces and tools more often and especially after an appointment
- Wearing more protective gear than usual
- Cleaning, replacing, and covering tools between uses
- Removing common things in the waiting room, like magazines or toys
- Posting signs with Covid19 guidelines
Why Is A General Dentist Appointment Important?
The American Dental Association makes it clear that keeping your check up appointments every six months is the key to good oral health. This guideline remains important even in the midst of a pandemic. At these appointments, in addition to your teeth and gums being cleaned, you are screened for other oral health issues.
Sometimes a simple cavity is found and at other times an issue found at these appointments can be life threatening, as dental health is intertwined with other critical health problems. A prominent indicator for health issues is gum disease which can be tied to the possibility of strokes and heart attacks. It is very important to catch any form of gum disease early so that it can be treated and stop the progress of it.
In addition, the ADA has detailed a list of oral issues that require an immediate dental visit including serious pain, bleeding, a tooth or crown that is broken, denture issues, pain with braces or wires, and any dental work related to cancer.
Is Oral Surgery Continuing Despite The Pandemic?
Essential oral surgery is still being done on a regular basis. The only surgery being postponed indefinitely is non-essential elective surgeries. Types of oral and maxillofacial surgeries that are continuing are wisdom tooth extraction, cleft lip and palate, dental implants, oral cancer, sleep apnea surgery and a number of others that are key to the oral health of the patient.
In an article featured on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website regarding maxillofacial surgery and Covid-19, it was made clear that all of the team must work together to fight infection including surgeons, nurses, assistants, trainees, and custodial staff. It also reinforced the fact that the lead maxillofacial surgeon should keep best practices and protocols at the forefront reminding staff of the use of barrier techniques, PPE, disinfection of surfaces, sterilization of all equipment and hand washing practices.
Extra protocols may be taken at the oral surgeon’s office including a betadine rinse which may reduce any active virus in the patient’s saliva. Your surgeon may also use telemedicine visits for pre-surgery and follow up. This allows you and the surgeon to be face to face on a call using apps like Zoom or Skype on the computer.
The ADA has detailed a list of oral issues that require an immediate visit to your oral surgeon including swollen areas in or around your mouth (gums, face, or neck), bleeding that won’t stop, signs of infection (pain and swelling) and post-surgery care you can’t do yourself.
What Can The Patient Do to Make Dental Visits Safer?
There are a number of things your dental office, whether general or surgery, may ask of you to make your visit safer. These requests are to keep you and the office staff safe and healthy despite the pandemic. Many offices are having a staff member greet patients before entering the office for a temperature and symptoms check. This is a very quick stop which should only delay you if you are showing Covid-19 symptoms.
You may get a call to go over your most recent health issues and to be asked if you have any virus symptoms, have traveled, or have been around people with Covid-19. Most doctor’s offices now require patients to wear a mask during their time within the office and to limit the number of people with you, especially children. Complying with these requests will make you and the office staff much safer during the pandemic.
It remains to be seen whether all of the new protocols for the dental industry will remain in place long term. For now, it is up to both the patient and the dental office staff to work together to keep each other safe from contracting Covid-19.