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Dental Patients Guide to COVID-19: Everything You Need To Know!

6 min read

Patients guide to COVID-19 or novel Coronavirus & dental appointments

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted every individual, family and business. The oral health industry, although a very vital part of maintaining our overall systemic health, has also been affected. The American Dental Association`s general recommendation to nationwide dentists and dental practices is:

“In order for dentistry to do its part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the ADA recommends dentists nationwide postpone elective procedures for the next three weeks. Concentrating on emergency dental care will allow us to care for our emergency patients and alleviate the burden that dental emergencies would place on hospital emergency departments.”

In this article, we will try to discuss what this recommendation means to the common dental patient and answer some of the common associated questions. The COVID-19 outbreak is a pandemic of scales that no one individual had comprehended or planned adequately for. The disease being novel, also makes it harder to understand and predict a definite future. Which is why dentists  and dental teams nationwide are working closely with their patients and the regulatory authorities to ensure patient needs are met in the safest way possible. You will see now, more than ever clinics and practices reaching out and communicating through tele-dentistry and patient phone calls to discuss and understand your needs as a patient. This is why it is equally important that if you haven’t already done so reach out to your dentist and utilize this time to discuss your dental appointments and any future treatment plans. 

Should I be going to my dental appointment?

The million dollar question today, with times of uncertainty comes a long list of answers of uncertainty. This is the point where you need to do a cost-vs-benefit analysis of the situation yourself. While most dental procedures are elective and can be delayed for a period of time, a great number of non-electives require immediate attention. You may be able to make a good judgment based on the procedure urgency discussed below. The purpose of emergency appointments is to alleviate any pain, restore functionality of mouth and maintain vital functions such as eating and chewing. 

What is considered emergency dental care?

Infections can occur in various forms in the mouth. From a mild infection only visible to the dentist on an X-ray, it can vary all the way to an extension to the neck that obstructs breathing and your airway. Such that will be considered a dental emergency and will need immediate intervention by a dentist and common examples are mentioned below:

Swelling and hardening of cheek and mouth muscles, indicating an underlying infection or pus accumulation. 

Sudden sharp pain in your mouth or jaw area that might be associated with an cavity or broken tooth. 

Swelling of neck, area under the chin and/or surrounding muscles, visible usually when comparing with structures on the other side.  

Tooth injuries occur when a tooth, part of the tooth or multiple teeth are misplaced or removed from their normal location in the jaw due to accident or trauma. Immediate measure needed is to touch the tooth only from the crown, place it in normal saline, the patient’s own saliva or milk within the next 5 minutes and seek emergency care. Due to time sensitivity, your dentist`s office might recommend you go to a hospital emergency care where the on-call dental team can take care of you. 

Mobile teeth Mobile teeth may be associated with underlying an underlying disease or infection. Your dentist, depending on the underlying problem may advise a medication or an immediate clinic visit. 

What is non-emergency dental care?

Orthodontics appointments: Although most ongoing orthodontic follow-up appointments can be delayed, it would be a good idea to check with your dental office and request to speak with the dentist and plan ahead. With the uncertainty of business reopening, the orthodontist will best be able to judge what stage of your treatment you are at, how long he is willing to delay your follow-up. They can also discuss any possible delays in the overall treatment duration given this delay. 

Root canals appointments: If a dentist has advised root canal treatment for a particular tooth, it might be time sensitive. If your X-rays have already been taken at the clinic, you might be lucky to discuss with the dentist how long you can possibly delay and observe. In some cases, the infection might spread and need immediate attention, in which case you would call up your dentist’s clinic and schedule an emergency appointment. IN most cases however, a couple of months wait, might be possible under observation. Talk to your dentist and discuss a future appointment on a case by case scenario. If a root canal was underway and you have a follow-up appointment, your dentist might need to see you on an earlier basis, just because an incomplete procedure cannot be delayed with such uncertainty. 

Due for a crown: Following a root canal or some other restorative procedure, the dentist may have advised you a crown. While most cases can wait in such a scenario with permanent fillings in place, some might need immediate attention. Call up your dentist’s office and discuss your needs and a plan for your future appointment. 

All other dental procedures: Routine cleanings, other dental appointments may need to be decided upon on a case by case scenario. Most are considered non-essential and can be delayed for a couple of months but if there is an immediate need, the dentist will inform you and have a plan in place for you keeping in mind the uncertainty of the times today. 

I am too anxious to go to the dentist during this time, can I get infected?

Believe it or not, your dentist is as afraid of being a source of cross-infection and/or getting infected as you are. This is why most dental clinics have closed down temporarily and are seeing patients on a need-basis only. Practices still doing emergency appointments are only doing so because they have extreme measures in place, proper personal protective equipment including masks, gowns and even air scavenger systems to ensure the patients and the staff’s safety. Request to be seen when there are no other patients in the waiting area and always with the staff members following proper Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Dental Settings During the COVID-19 More than ever, dentists and specialists are making themselves available over the phone to ensure that quality care is provided to their patients without any chances of exposure. 

What if someone in my family or I am sick with COVID-19, can I still see my dentist?

For your safety and the safety of other patients, let your dentist know at the time of booking your emergency appointment if you think you have been exposed or are currently suffering from COVID-19. Depending on your need and the CDC recommendation, it will help the dentist decide how to prioritize your care. They will ask you details about your travel history, chance of community spread and any laboratory result you may have gotten done recently. Depending on the stage of disease and your dental needs at the time, the dentist will be able to make a recommendation. 

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