Now that all 50 states are allowing elective or routine dental procedures¹, dental offices around the country have recently reopened after closing their doors to all but emergency appointments due to COVID-19. But just because some restrictions have been lifted doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat. Due to the high-contact nature of dental visits, staff and patients are still at risk of contracting the virus.
However, these risks can be mitigated with careful health and safety precautions. You can still take good care of your oral health without putting your overall health at risk.
Safety checklist for your next dentist appointment
As long as your dental office follows proper procedures and you do your part to minimize risk, you should be able to receive great dental care safely and swiftly. Here’s a safety checklist to review before your next dentist appointment:
Wear a mask - The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where total social distancing is difficult. Whether your city requires people to wear cloth masks in public or not, wearing one can help keep you and others from getting sick.
Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer - Clean your hands before and after your dentist appointment. The dental office will likely provide hand sanitizing stations, but it’s a good idea to bring some hand sanitizer along with you just in case.
Keep a safe distance - The CDC recommends that you stay at least 6 feet away from other people outside your home. While this may not be possible while receiving dental treatment, be sure to keep a safe distance from staff and other patients during your appointment.
Bring just yourself to your appointment - Arriving to your dental appointment alone helps reduce the number of people in the waiting room.
Stay home if you’re feeling sick - Monitor your health closely. If you experience any symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath², stay home and call your dental office to reschedule your appointment.
Questions to ask your dentist
The American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have left the implementation of safety guidelines largely up to individual dental offices. This means your dentist’s office may be responding differently to the current crisis. Talk to your dentist about what precautions they are putting in place.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask your dentist before coming in for a visit or scheduling an appointment:
How have you changed your practice’s procedures due to COVID-19? Learn about the various safety measures your dental office has taken to keep patients safe.
When did your practice reopen? Find out how long staff has had to adjust to new sanitization and safety procedures.
How are you screening patients that come in for an appointment? It’s good to make sure that your dental office is screening other patients for coronavirus symptoms.
Should I wait to make an appointment? Discuss your needs and concerns with your dentist, then ask for their expert advice on whether you should come in soon.
Will you be charging an additional infection control fee? Some dentists are charging a $10 to $20 infection control fee to mitigate the costs of extra expenses, such as masks, face shields, gowns, and other protective measures³. Ask your dentist whether you’ll need to budget for that additional cost.
Do you offer teledentistry services? If you’re feeling especially nervous about going out in public and visiting the dentist, consider taking advantage of teledentistry services. This can allow you to still benefit from high-quality dental care without having to come in contact with other people. Teledentistry services are covered by Guardian Direct dental insurance plans through June 30, 2020.
When to reschedule your dentist appointment
Visiting the dentist regularly is an important part of taking proper care of your oral health. Here’s how to know if you should reschedule your dentist appointment for a later date:
If you feel sick - The CDC urges dentists to encourage patients to stay at home if they feel sick. Even canceling your appointment last-minute may be more responsible than potentially putting your dental office at risk. Continue practicing good oral hygiene at home and wait at least 14 days before visiting the dentist in person.
If you’ve been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 - The CDC recommends that anyone who has recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 should quarantine⁴. If you know you’ve had close contact with someone who’s tested positive, reschedule your appointment. Stay home until 14 days after your last exposure and watch for symptoms.
If you’ve just had a check-up and nothing’s wrong - If you’ve had a routine checkup within the last six months and you aren’t experiencing any dental problems, you may want to reschedule your appointment for a later date.
If your dental practice isn’t open for routine treatment - Some dental practices have made the decision to remain closed for basic or preventive care. If your dental office hasn’t opened its doors yet, consider rescheduling for a later date or visiting a different dentist in your insurance provider’s network.
If you’re high-risk - Receiving quality dental care is crucial to taking care of your overall health. However, if you’re elderly or if you have a preexisting condition that makes you especially vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, talk to your dentist.
In any of these cases, consider scheduling a teledentistry consultation to receive the dental treatment you need from your home. It’s a remote and convenient way of accessing quality dental care.
How dentists are keeping patients safe
As restrictions have been lifted and many dental practices across the country reopen, the American Dental Association has issued guidance on additional precautions they can take to keep patients and staff protected⁵. Here’s an idea of what you can expect.
Before your appointment
In order to make sure incoming patients are healthy, your dental office may call you or email you before your appointment to ask you a few screening questions about your current health, whether you’ve been in contact with anyone who has coronavirus, and whether you’ve experienced any symptoms recently. They may ask you these questions again once you arrive to make sure your answers haven’t changed.
Your dental practice may also limit the number of people you’re permitted to bring to your appointment. This could require you to make plans to leave your children at home or wait outside while older children are seen.
During your appointment
Follow state and city guidelines regarding wearing masks in public when you go to your appointment. You may be asked to wait outside until staff is ready for you in order to reduce the amount of time you’re close to other people and the number of people in the office at once. Once you do enter the office, a member of staff may take your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever.
Once inside the office, you may notice that toys, magazines, and other things people often touch in the waiting room have been removed. They’ll likely encourage the use of hand sanitizer and ask that you keep a six-foot social distance from other patients in the waiting room. And they’ll likely wipe down any surfaces or items you do touch, such as pens, clipboards, and furniture.
When you’re in the dental chair, you might notice that your dentist uses different protective equipment than in the past, such as masks, goggles, face shields, and gowns. They may also occasionally use single-use equipment and avoid certain procedures that generate aerosols when possible.
After your appointment
Once your appointment has ended, the staff will thoroughly clean any areas where you’ve been in order to reduce the risk of illness being passed to others.
If you start experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of your appointment, call the dental office and let them know.
With exhaustive preventive measures implemented by dental offices and by following expert advice on what you can do to prevent the spread of coronavirus, you can still safely receive quality dental care.
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This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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