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Almost all aspects of life seem to be altered in some way by COVID-19, including dentistry. In the early phases of the pandemic, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommended routine dental care be postponed, and that dentists provide only emergent and urgent dental care.
That recommendation was made when much was still being discovered about this new virus. There was a shortage of supplies, including personal protective equipment that dentists need to safely provide patient care.
As the pandemic continued, the ADA modified its guidance and now recommends dentists resume providing regular dental visits, including routine dental care. During the pandemic, both the CDC and the ADA continue to provide science-based recommendations for dental clinics.
Recommendations include screening dental patients for COVID-19 symptoms before dental appointments and checking the temperature of patients before starting procedures. Any patients feeling unwell with possible COVID-19 symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath should reschedule their dental appointment or be given the option for a virtual dental appointment known as a TeleDental appointment.
Patients may also be encouraged to limit companions at dental appointments. Only one parent or guardian may be permitted to accompany a pediatric dental patient. Some offices recommend that patients wait in the car and call upon arrival to further promote physical distancing in the waiting room and dental clinic.
Cleaning protocols have been enhanced to include frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs. Shared items in the waiting room, such as magazines, have been removed.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is believed to spread by respiratory droplets from infected people in close proximity to one another. To provide dental treatment, patients must remove their facemasks once seated in the dental chair. Dental healthcare personnel may be wearing more protective equipment, including face shields and surgical mask or respirator.
Some dental procedures may produce aerosols. High-velocity suction equipment can be used to help minimize aerosols. As a precaution, dental clinics may allow more time between patients seated in the same room. Additional HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration units in the dental clinic can also help clean the air
RiverStone Health Dental Clinic has added safety enhancements that include a greeter at the front door who screens visitors and takes temperatures, HEPA filtration systems, increased physical barriers in the clinic and front desk area, and distancing in the lobbies. Furthermore, dental healthcare personnel wear more personal protective equipment than before the pandemic.
I encourage people who have questions about these recommendations and any changes they may expect at their next dental appointment to contact their dental provider.
By following science-based recommendations, dental clinics can minimize risk to patients and dental staff while providing safe dental healthcare.
Routine and preventative dentistry as well as practicing good oral hygiene and home care can maintain and improve oral health. Healthy habits of proper teeth brushing for two minutes twice a day and eating a balanced diet with limited sugary and starchy snacks is especially important for children. Preventing dental disease and keeping people healthy is even more imperative during a pandemic.