There has been a lot of discussion about accessing dental care while the COVID-19 pandemic is still spreading throughout the nation and the world. Some have said that dental visits should only take place if there is a dental emergency which includes pain, infection or trauma. Others maintain that dental checkups, cleanings and some routine care need to continue in order to help people maintain good oral health.
The decision whether or not to go to the dental office is in the hands of the individual making the choice. Some dental offices are open for limited care, while others are providing more extensive treatments for patients who ask for certain procedures. Regardless of your reasoning for going to the dental office, there are some basic things you may want to consider before you head out.
Understanding How the Virus Spreads
Most people are familiar with how the virus spreads by now. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus, which is spread through respiratory droplets. Miniscule droplets containing the virus are released when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets fly through the air and can be breathed in by others. This is what causes you to get sick.
The virus is contained in the mucus and saliva of the mouth and throat as well as in the fluids of the respiratory tract. Wearing a mask helps keep these droplets from spreading and to a certain degree, a mask can also filter out droplets that are in the air you breathe.
Your Trip To and From the Dental Office
While much of the discussion about whether or not to go to the dental office centers on how safe the office itself will be, another major consideration needs to be how you will get to and from the dental office. Transportation needs to be taken into consideration since it can also have an impact on your possible exposure to the virus.
The dental office will most likely have precautions in place to keep you and other patients at a safe distance. If your trip to the dental office is in your own private vehicle, you may not have anything to worry about. If you are taking a taxi or a ride-sharing mode of transportation, you are probably relatively safe if the driver is wearing a mask. If you are sharing the ride with other passengers, your risk is increased due to close proximity.
The same is true for taking a bus. The more people you are around, and the closer you are to one another, the greater the risk you have for contracting the virus. Keep in mind that wearing a mask does not prevent the spread of the virus, it lowers the possibility of infection, but the possibility remains, nevertheless. If possible, take the safest mode of transportation to your dental appointment.
What Precautions Are Your Dentist Taking?
Most dental offices are complying with standards set by health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Dental Association (ADA) to prevent or minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus. You can make a call to your dental office and find out for yourself what precautions are being taken to keep patients safe.
If you have not been to the dentist since the pandemic, be prepared for changes. Many dental teams have been using masks and gloves for years, so this will most likely not be a change. There may be changes in the waiting area as well as the rooms. Social distancing guidelines are being maintained in many offices. Fewer patients are allowed in the waiting areas now. You may be asked to wait outside until the dentist is ready to see you, and you may be asked to limit the number of people who come with you to your appointment.
Toys for kids, books and magazines will most likely not be available in your dentist’s waiting area any longer. Bring your own reading material and items for the kids if necessary.
You may notice that dental staff is taking extra care to keep surfaces clean. You may also notice that they may be wearing more personal protective gear than in the past. All these precautions are necessary to keep staff and patients safe.
Is Your Visit Necessary?
If you are in pain, have swelling, an infected tooth or mouth trauma, there is no question about the necessity of going to the dentist. These situations need immediate dental care. There are other situations that may not call for an emergency visit. Should you wait or can you make that appointment?
When you are in doubt as to whether or not you should be seen by a dentist, you can call the office and explain your situation. Your dentist will then make a determination and recommend your next steps. If it has been a while since you have seen the dentist and you notice a problem developing, you may want to get it taken care of before it turns into a more complicated issue.
The World Health Organization put out guidelines in August which suggest that people do not need to get oral exams and cleanings right now. The American Dental Association, however, maintains that exams and cleanings are essential dental care and should not be put off. It is up to you to decide if your routine dental care is necessary now. Keep in mind that dental examinations often identify developing issues in their earliest stages.
What Are Your Risk Factors?
When making the decision whether or not to visit the dentist during the pandemic, you need to look at your own risk factors. Are you in a high-risk group for getting seriously ill from the coronavirus? According to the CDC, these individuals have one or more of these factors:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
- Compromised immune system from solid organ transplant
- Heart conditions
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
People with these conditions may also be at a greater risk for complications with COVID-19:
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Damaged or scarred lung tissues
- Weakened immune system
- Dementia or other neurologic conditions
- Liver disease
- Type 1 diabetes
If you have one or more of these conditions, it does not necessarily mean that you will become deathly ill if you get the virus; it does mean your chances for complications are higher than if you are a healthy individual with no underlying medical concerns.
The Good News About Dental Offices
With all the questions about whether or not you should make that appointment to see your dentist, there is one fact that is important. So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been attributed to any dental practices in the U.S. according to the American Dental Association. Dentists and their team members are taking special precautions to keep everyone safe.
This is a unique disease that has not been seen before. Scientists are still discovering new things about this coronavirus, making it difficult to control and eradicate. Some changes we see as a result will become normal operating procedures, much like the AIDS epidemic of the 80s led to dental teams using gloves and wearing masks for every patient.
You need not be afraid to visit your dentist. As long as the dental office is following safety guidelines and you are doing your part, maintaining your oral health should remain a priority. At Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta, your safety and oral health are priorities. Call today to schedule your appointment with us.