How to Be Safe at the Dentist’s Office During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we work, engage with others, and go through our daily lives. Still, the gears of the world continue to grind, and some things just can’t wait. Tooth pain is one of them.
While it may feel like certain activities can be put off until “after the pandemic,” regular check-ups and other appointments with your dentist remain of key importance in maintaining your dental and oral health. A missed appointment one year can lead to an unfortunate diagnosis in the next, one that might have very well been prevented had your dentist caught it earlier.
With that being said, going anywhere—no less a dental office where you’ll come in close contact with multiple people—is a daunting task that’s accompanied by risk. Especially those who live with immunocompromised individuals or work in a setting that serves vulnerable populations, safety precautions and protocols are essential for peace of mind.
Here are answers to some of your most pressing questions about safely going to the dentist’s office.
What risks might I be exposed to at my dentist’s office?
COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets that an infected individual releases in a mist when they breathe, cough, talk, sneeze, and more. These droplets then make their way into other people’s mouth, nose, or eyes. And, just like that, we have an incredibly infectious pandemic.
It’s no surprise, then, that the dentist’s chair might feel particularly dangerous: Both your dentist and dental hygienists are working in and around your open mouth, and, therefore, it’s impossible for the guest to wear a mask or face shield. This was one of the reasons why, in March 2020, the American Dental Association (ADA) called for practitioners to delay non-emergency dental care for their patients.
Since then, the ADA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have become more educated not only about how COVID-19 spreads but also how to resume routine dentistry safely and responsibly. This knowledge was used to develop robust safety and control measures that dentists across the U.S. have implemented to protect themselves, their staff, and their patients from the spread of disease.
Thanks to these collective efforts, dentist’s offices have been allowed to reopen since May 2020. Plus, a study completed by the ADA Science & Research Institute and Health Policy Institute found that, as of June 2020, fewer than 1 percent of dentists in the nation was estimated to be COVID-19 positive and no positive cases were traced back to dental offices.
What safety measures should I ask about in my dentist’s office?
In collaboration with the ADA, the CDC developed and continues to update their Guidance for Dental Settings: Interim Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Dental Settings During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This comprehensive document covers everything from screening processes, physical distancing, and the shift to teledentistry all the way to the type of equipment that should and should not be employed, the universal use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and hand hygiene.
Your dental office, like all professional businesses, should be taking these basic precautions:
- Sanitizing all surfaces and equipment after each use.
- Hand-washing frequently using soap and water.
- Physically distancing and using plastic or glass barriers between staff and patients.
- Only leaving out tools or equipment that will be used for a single patient.
To see if your dentist is meeting other safety recommendations forwarded by the CDC and ADA, call their office and ask the following questions.
Are masks required in the office?
The answer should always be a resounding yes. Staff and patients alike must be masked, with their noses covered, while in the waiting area and immediately before and after their checkup or procedure.
Are you limiting the number of patients you’re seeing?
Again, the answer should be yes.
Most dental offices are staggering appointments so that more time is allotted to each patient, thus reducing the number of people in the waiting area and dental stations at any given time. In some cases, the office may ask you to wait in your car until the previous patient has left the office.
If the office does keep its waiting room open, the chairs should be distanced 6 feet apart and, even still, the number of people waiting should be typically limited to two or three, depending on the size of the room. All items you’d typically see in the lobby—magazines, toys for kids, snacks, water bottles—should be removed and replaced with hand sanitizers, tissues, and extra trash cans.
How do you screen patients for COVID-19 before their visits?
Your dental office should have an extended in-office registration or check-in process in place to screen out patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, patients who were recently tested and still awaiting results, and patients who’ve been recently exposed to someone infected with or showing symptoms of COVID-19.
This screening process can be completed over the phone, over text, or using an online form. Anyone who does not pass this process should not be permitted to visit the office.
Even if you do pass the screening process, your dentist may still require your temperature to be taken before you can enter the office. While this may feel tedious, this extra step is important and a sign that your dental team is applying best practices.
Do you have high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in your office?
Research has indicated that HEPA filters encourage room filtration, which works towards reducing the transmission of airborne particles of COVID-19.
That’s why your dentist should have at least one HEPA filter in the waiting area and another in the larger office space where the dental stations are located. If your dentist has private rooms for each patient, then each room should receive a minimum of six air changes per hour. This means that air from each room must be exhausted directly to the outside or be filtered using a HEPA filter at least six times an hour.
A Dental Team that Makes Your Safety a Top Priority
Going into the dentist’s office during a pandemic can be an unsettling process, especially if you’re unsure if your dentist has taken enough safety measures to protect you and their staff. And while you may consider putting off your routine check-up for a later time, you seek immediate dental healthcare if you’re currently experiencing pain or showing signs of infection in your gums or teeth—these symptoms will only worsen and cause more serious ailments that take time, energy, and resources to take care of.
Carrie Muzny DDS takes the guesswork out of your visit during the pandemic. Serving the Woodlands, Benders Landing, Woodforest, Spring, and the Conroe and Montgomery areas, we proactively implement all of the above safety and control measures and more, so you can visit us comfortably knowing that we’ve made your safety, wellbeing, and care our top priorities.
To find out more about the services we offer and how we perform them with COVID-19 safety in mind, contact us today!