Depending on where you live, we've now spent over half a year in some sort of lockdown, quarantine, or confinement, and by the looks of it we could very well ring in the new year with a virtual kiss at midnight.
Apart from an initial closure, dentists' offices around the United States have been open since March and April and are ready for you to visit.
By now you probably know that clinics conduct stringent disinfecting procedures before seeing each patient and that COVID rates among dentists are remarkably low—fewer than one percent of dentists in the nation have been found to be COVID positive.
Why such low rates among medical professionals whose job it is to maintain close proximity with patients' mouths, AKA the coronavirus's preferred distribution method?
Because of enhanced safety protocols. Clinics follow strict procedures to ensure the safety of their dentists, hygienists, staff, and patients. And according to Dr. Mark Fletcher from Avon Oral, Facial and Dental Implant Surgery in Connecticut, it's actually not surprising that dentists have so much success in keeping down rates of infection.
“Given a dentist’s and dental staff’s high exposure to aerosols, we have always implemented focused infection control as a part of our culture,” he explains. “Our staff and offices are required by law to be infection control certified. It is not at all surprising that the COVID infection rate among dentists is 1%. In my opinion, the dental profession’s response to COVID-19 can be viewed as a model for mitigating transmission of infection during the pandemic.”
—So we know that dentists are doing everything they can to make sure their clinics are safe, but have you ever wondered what protocols your dentist would like you to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Well, we asked and the dentists answered. We found some of the responses to be quite interesting, and we think you will too, so we've compiled our findings into six primary tips, pointers, and recommendations from dentists to you.
1. Don't postpone your treatment!
“People keep postponing dental treatment until the problem becomes huge.”
You may think it's the best course of action to put off pending treatment until the pandemic has passed. But according to Dr. Atom Edenson from Edenson Dental in Tampa, Florida, postponing your treatment can mean that your tooth will become unsalvageable, or damaged to the point that the required treatment will be too expensive.
This could mean that the root canal you've been postponing ceases to become an option, and instead, you'll need an entire tooth extraction. After that, you've got to start thinking about partial dentures, or ideally implants.
2. Continue your regular checkups
You may be inclined to put off your biannual checkup and cleaning, but Dr. Umang Patel from Romeoville Dental Center outside of Chicago, Illinois says:
“It’s important for patients to keep their scheduled dental appointments to visit the dentist, not just for emergency situations. We understand that not everyone is comfortable getting back to business as usual. That’s especially true in situations where it is impossible to avoid close personal contact, like a dental exam. But just like avoiding the coronavirus, oral care is essential to your health.”
3. Beware of misinformation!
Unless you've been living under a rock (actually not a bad idea considering the state of the world lately), you're probably somewhat aware of the vast amounts of disinformation dancing across the web and waltzing through social media, masquerading as reliable investigative journalism. And the oral health industry is not immune to the wide reach of such misinformation.
“I wish more people would learn the skill of critically assessing scientific data and using that data to inform or modify their own opinions.”
As Dr. Max Meinerz, from The Good Dentist in Merton, Wisconsin has noticed, many patients are reading content with unsubstantiated claims that lack academic rigor, causing these patients to ignore potentially life-saving protocols (like wearing a mask) or to avoid the dental office altogether.
His wish is that people learn how to think critically and consider the information they consume with a healthy amount of skepticism before they use that data to inform or modify their own opinions and actions.
4. Come prepared
Ask about your dentist's specific safety protocols before your appointment, and make sure to show up to your appointment on time. Your clinic will likely be scheduling appointments at staggered times to decrease the risk of crowding and exposure to the virus.
Dr. Bobbi Stanley of Stanley Dentistry in Cary, North Carolina also suggests that patients should confirm the price of the appointment with their dentist beforehand so they can prevent any unforeseen expenses that may cause additional delays.
5. Practice patience
…and empathy and flexibility.
Dr. Stanley also says that one of the best things patients can do during this time is to be flexible. Many offices have adjusted their hours and their services during COVID-19, which could cause delays in the normal routine. She adds: “Realizing that the office is going through their own struggles—being sympathetic to those struggles—goes a long way.”
“Besides following guidelines given by your dentist, I hope people will be patient.”
As Dr. Max Meinerz notes, dentists are taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe, which can be annoying at the least and at the most, well, we've all seen the viral videos of patients losing it because they are asked to wear a mask.
At his clinic, they make sure to share with patients the reasons for the extra precautions, and he does believe that most people are willing to help out friends and neighbors if they can see how their behaviors impact others.
Dr. Kami Hoss, the founder of The Super Dentists in San Diego, urges patience as well as flexibility, adding: “This is a tough year for all of us and we're doing our best to help our patients, stay in business, and do everything safely.”
As a patient, you may find the new protocols at your dental clinic to be inconvenient or frustrating, but keep in mind that your dentists didn't ask to be in this situation either. Their number one priority is your health and safety, and they will do whatever necessary to ensure your well-being.
6. If you're feeling anxious…
Whether you always have dental anxiety or are anxious about going to the dentist during a pandemic, Dr. Max Meinerz recommends finding a dentist with whom you are comfortable and one who you know practices stringent COVID protocols.
Your dentist should also offer sedation for patients who struggle with dental anxiety. This could include nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or oral conscious sedation, both of which are safe ways of managing anxiety during your visit. IV sedation should be offered for more complicated procedures.
He also recommends keeping an open line with your dental office. Many providers are offering virtual consultations for simple conditions, and if you do need to make an office visit, you can ask your dentist what time of day has the fewest amount of patients coming and going to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.
And dentists, you aren't completely off the hook either…
One patient from Spokane, Washington reached out to us about a recent experience they had at their dentist during a restorative procedure. Their dentist decided that this was the appropriate time and place to dive into a heavily biased political tirade against the Chinese for manufacturing and spreading the virus.
The patient's take? “Someone who shows so little judgment in terms of what is appropriate ‘chair talk' shouldn’t be in charge of what’s going on in my mouth.”
Suffice it to say that the patient in question will not be returning. The lesson? Unfounded conspiracy theories and thinly veiled hate speech isn't the best way to woo clients.
Any final tips?
“Please, please, please don't experiment in any DIY dental work.” Dr. Kami Hoss
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! A lifetime of healthy smiles requires about 5 minutes a day of work and includes brushing twice with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, flossing once a day, staying adequately hydrated and attempting to minimize any refined carbohydrates and acids from sitting on our teeth for extended periods of time.” Dr. Max Meinerz
“Keeping regular appointments is not only safe but necessary. Maintaining good oral health is one of the best ways to fight disease including Covid.” Dr. Mark Fletcher
Of all the dentists we interviewed, not one said that patients should postpone any kind of treatment. They also urged patients to continue with their regular checkups and cleanings as an essential part of being their healthiest during this time.