During the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering what to do if you get a toothache or need dental treatment. The American Dental Association (ADA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as state and local governments have provided some guidelines and advice about when and how to seek dental care while under a stay-at-home order.
Are dentist offices still open during COVID-19?
Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is upsetting every aspect of our lives—from buying groceries to going to work, to attending church, to visiting our friends and neighbors. Accessing health care has become one of the hardest to deal with, including accessing needed dental care.
For years, many dentists have been proactive in preventing cross-contamination in their offices. Wearing gloves, masks, eye protection, and gowns (personal protective equipment or PPEs) is the normal routine for each procedure with every patient in a dental office. This is nothing new for dentistry.
But even with normal precautions taken by many dental offices, the ADA1 and the CDC2 have called on dentists across the United States to postpone all elective procedures and all non-urgent dental services until further notice.
The ADA has stated that existing and future local or state government mandates supersede its recommendations. In addition, state dental associations may best understand local challenges being faced and make recommendations appropriate to members in their areas.3
What is a dental emergency?
The ADA recently issued guidelines4 to help patients and dentists decide if a face-to-face visit is needed or if home care or medications will suffice as temporary measures.
The ADA list of conditions and appointments that can safely be postponed include:
- Regular visits for exams, cleanings and X-rays
- Regular visits for braces
- Removal of teeth that are not painful
- Treatment of cavities that are not painful
- Tooth whitening
These procedures still require a visit to your dentist:
- Bleeding that does not stop
- Swelling inside or around your mouth
- Pain in the teeth or jaw
- Infection of the gums with pain or swelling
- Dressing changes or stitch removal after surgery
- Broken or knocked out tooth
- Denture adjustments for patients receiving cancer treatments
- Snipping wires from braces that hurt your cheek or gums
- Biopsies of abnormal tissue
If you experience a condition that does not fall in either of the above categories, contact your dentist to determine if you need an in-office visit. When you call the office, have as much information regarding your dental problem as possible. Take your temperature before calling, and make sure you do not have any other symptoms of COVID-19.
Inform the dentist if you have any underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease. If you are not already a patient of record, the dentist may need to take and review your complete health history before providing any advice or treatment.
How do I find a dentist open today?
If you have a dentist, contact your dentist to determine if you need to be seen immediately and find out if they can see you. If you don’t have a dentist or if your dentist’s office isn’t open, contact your dental insurance provider for a list of dentists in your area. If they can’t see you during an emergency, you can go to an urgent care center or the hospital. But the Emergency Room shouldn’t be your first stop if your dentist is available.
Some offices are using teledentistry to diagnose and treat some conditions. If so, you might be able to receive treatment and get recommendations via a computer equipped with a camera. Ask your dentist if teledentistry is available.
If you can't make it to the dentist, continue to practice good oral care to keep your teeth healthy and prevent gum disease until you can resume in-office dental visits.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. 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.