Now that we have emerged from quarantine and restrictions are being slowly removed, patients want to know are they safe to resume dental care. The answer is “yes,” with few exceptions.
As of May 1, 2020, Virginia resumed regular dental care as an essential service. This essential service distinction is important because, at that time, our state was still not open in many sectors of business. The reason dental offices resumed regular care is because of the essential nature of dental health in relation to our overall health. Delaying dental care can lead to more serious dental and medical conditions that impact overall health and wellbeing.
Are Dental Offices Safe?
Dentists and their teams put safety first. Dental teams pay close attention to and comply with Centers for Disease Control, the American Dental Association, and state recommendations.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, offices followed strict infection control guidelines that were designed to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases, including viruses. These practices are effective with COVID-19. In an abundance of caution, dental offices have increased the frequency and thoroughness of sanitizing procedures. They have also added additional protective measures (described below) and follow safety procedures recommended by the Center for Disease Control and the American Dental Association.
Safety of Reception,
Business, and Common Areas
Offices are asking patients to stay in their car and contact the team when they arrive. A team member will then contact the patient when it is time to come into the office. Patients are asked to wear facemasks into the office. They are then greeted by team members who will also be wearing facemasks. Each patient must clear a screening with a COVID-19 questionnaire and temperature check with a touch-free temporal thermometer before they are allowed to proceed to their care area. Amenities such as coffee and water bottle service, magazines, toys, and books for children have been removed. These procedures accomplish physical distancing by limiting the time each patient is in the reception area and limiting the number of patients in the reception area. Hand sanitizer and facial tissues are available at various locations for patient use. The reception area, business area, bathroom, and common areas of the building are sanitized several times each day.
Clinical Area Safety
Each dental team member has to clear the COVID-19 questionnaire, and temperature checks each morning before starting their day. Team members in clinical areas are also using additional personal protective equipment (PPE). This PPE may include higher efficiency respirator masks, second layer masks, face shields, and gowns. Offices are addressing air quality by limiting aerosol procedures, using high volume evacuators, and air purifying systems (such as HEPA filters and ultraviolent-UV sanitization).
What about Older and Medically Compromised Patients
The health consequences of infection are especially important with these patients, but it is essential that health decisions not be made based on fear. Each patient in these categories has to be treated individually. By that, I mean consultation with the dentist and physician may be necessary. Many older and/or medically compromised patients health will get worse if they delay dental care. We know that the overall health of every person is directly affected by their oral health. When the immune system is weak, any change in oral health can lead to worsening medical health.
Should I come to my dental appointment alone?
Offices are continuing to practice physical distancing until it is safe to do otherwise. We ask that you do not bring any other individuals into the office for your appointment unless they are also receiving treatment or if they are needed to provide assistance.
Should I cancel my appointment if I or someone else is sick in my household?
If you or anyone in your household is sick, or under quarantine for any reason, you should postpone your appointment for at least three weeks.
In summary, dental offices are safe environments for patients and team members and, with very few exceptions, it is important not to delay visits, so oral and overall health is not adversely affected.
Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, alumnus of Pankey Institute, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association. Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA. www.MiddleburgSmiles.com.