SMILE, You Can Safely See the Dentist in the Age of COVID-19!
By Dr. Brian Meulener, DMD, Meulener Dental
We believe that by controlling our environment, the dental office can be one of the safest places you can visit. Many people are long overdue and in desperate need of a dental cleaning. The last six months have seen our society completely shut down and then slowly open back up. We are seeing current patients and many new patients these days. People have moved down from the city; others are no longer commuting and need a local dentist. People in our community care about their oral health and appreciate the value of consistently seeing the dentist and hygienist twice a year. We thank you.
Still, there are those who are nevertheless anxious and consider going to the dentist an unnecessary risk. We think that the health benefits far outweigh the potential risks. The media has reported that dentists and hygienists are the professions most vulnerable to COVID and other potential airborne pathogens. Given the extensive sterilization protocols and precautions that dental offices undergo, we respectfully disagree.
The history of dentistry has seen vast changes when it comes to sanitation and sterilization practices. It has taken generations of change to get to this point. The original dental practitioners were also barbers…which could be a hairy situation! Back then, there was little knowledge about sterilizing instruments between patients, and as a result, dental infections could become fatal. Modern dentists didn’t even start regularly wearing gloves until the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. Before that, wearing gloves and gowns was perceived as insulting to the patient. How things have changed. Today, we would not dream of going near a patient without gloves and a mask.
So, what should you expect when you return to your dentist? Today, dental students are taught to treat every patient as though they might have an infectious disease, making sure that proper PPE is worn and maintained. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has become a popular term these days due to the latest COVID pandemic, and rightfully so. Back when states were ordered to shut down and citizens advised to shelter in place, most dental offices closed their doors except to treat true emergencies. Dentists across the country and the world were forced to re-examine their own PPE protocols and how best to adapt to this “new normal.”
According to CDC and ADA guidelines, social distancing is a must. We ask our patients to wait in their cars until we have a clear reception area for them to enter. Masks must always be worn until seated in the dental chair. Hand sanitizers are readily available, and the patient’s temperature will be taken upon entry. Many practices will take the opportunity to update medical history. Patients should arrive early and expect to spend a few moments filling out new paperwork.
Once a patient enters the clinical area and is seated, the mask may be removed when advised by the assistant or hygienist. Many dental professionals will now be wearing disposable gowns, scrubs, a surgical mask over N95 or KN95 masks, and a face shield. These are all necessary PPE improvements that ensure the safety of patients and practitioners. Improved suction machines designed to reduce aerosols and air filtration systems may have also been installed. The clinical areas will have been wiped clean and covered with plastic barrier tape and covers. If you have any questions about safety precautions and measures, ask and your dental team should be willing and able to answer them.
ADA President Chad P. Gehani, D.D.S. states that, “Dentistry is essential health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing, or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health. Millions of patients have safely visited their dentists in the past few months for the full range of dental services. With appropriate PPE, dental care should continue to be delivered during global pandemics or other disaster situations.” Gum disease, cavities and infections will not take time off for any reason. Bottom line: your oral health is too important to skip your regular dental appointments. With all these new precautions in place, your dental office is one of the safest places you can visit. Your dental team is ready and waiting to welcome their patients back to the practice.