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If you’ve never been a fan of going to the dentist, you may have an excuse to skip your routine visit this year – depending on your opinions about. Tooth cleaning and checks are important to keep your mouth healthy and avoid expensive procedures, such as a root canal, along the line. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are conflicting guidelines out there as to whether you should still go to the dentist for non-emergency appointments.
The WHO released a statement in August recommending that people skip routine dental checkups and cleanings during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said that you should only visit the dentist for necessary procedures, including if you have pain, an infection or need emergency care. In the meantime, the WHO recommends that you use “remote consultations” if you are not sure whether or not to see a dentist.
In response, the American Dental Association released a statement saying that it “strongly” does not agree with the WHO’s advice on dental care and that it is important to go to the dentist. “Dental care is an important health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health,” says ADA President Dr. Chad P. Gehani, DDS in the statement.
Although you should talk to your dentist before making any hasty decisions, the safety issues surrounding visiting the dentist are not clear this year. I talked to an orthodontist to get more information on navigating this complicated (and personal) decision.
Why it can be risky to go to the dentist
“The relative safety of visiting the dentist right now is very condition specific and individual. For those states that have an increasing number of cases of COVID-19, I would recommend that you only see your dentist in an emergency (severe pain or infection),” says Dr. . Heather Kunen, DDS, MS and founder of Beam Street.
According to the WHO report, the nature of the problems creates a risk of getting coronavirus for both patients and healthcare professionals due to how experts believe that the virus is transmitted. First, there is evidence that respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing and chatter spread the virus. Because they work in your mouth and are in close contact with you (much closer than 6 feet), your dentist will be exposed to these drops – along with blood and saliva.
Secondly, the WHO proposes that the coronavirus can be spread by aerosol transmission. Many common dental treatments, such as tooth cleaning, generate aerosols, which puts workers at risk for the virus.
In addition to the risks to both patients and workers listed above, keep in mind that you will not be able to wear a mask during a dental visit, making you vulnerable to bacteria from other people around you and allowing you to spread bacteria as well. Because it is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and not show symptoms, you may unknowingly spread it at your next dental appointment or withdraw it from asupplier.
However, it probably means a lower safety risk to go to a general doctor’s appointment because both the doctor and the patient can distance themselves as much as possible and wear masks for most procedures.
Dental workers have been using personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and face shields for decades, but according to the FDA, PPE cannot completely eliminate the risk of transmitting a virus. “For those states whose cases have leveled off, the conditions may be safer for emergency and / or routine meetings, although appropriate protective measures for personal protective equipment should still be taken,” says Dr. Kunen.
If you are considered at high risk (as if you have existing medical conditions or are over 65) or are, you may want to put up with your routine visits, no matter what the virus conditions are in your community. “The high-risk patients should only go to the dentist if they experience pain or infection. Overall, I would recommend each patient to call their provider for the best guidance for office visits,” says Dr. Kunen.
What dental offices do to protect patients
Many dental offices increase safety measures to protect patients and workers.
“In my office, we have installed new air filtration systems, put extra barriers between dental chairs, implemented increased personal protective equipment and limited the number of patients who can be in the office at the same time,” says Dr. Kunen.
If you visit the dentist, you will probably need to answer questions about your health and if you have been in contact with someone who may have the virus before your period. Temperature controls are also common.
Whether or not you should go to the dentist is ultimately a personal decision. To know the potential risks, you should consider your own level of comfort with the circumstances and do what feels best for you and your situation.
“We are still in the very early stages of understanding this mysterious virus, and I think it is impossible to accurately measure the security of entering populated areas,” says Dr. Kunen. “I advise patients who are still very concerned about having the virus wait until conditions improve or until we have a better understanding of COVID-19.”
The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goal.