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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness (similar to the flu) that can produce mild to severe symptoms. Those most at risk of contracting the disease are people with weakened immune systems and underlying health conditions.
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and breathing difficulties (in severe cases). Other less common symptoms include sore throat, headache, fatigue, and loss of smell or taste.
Most general dentist offices around the U.S. and in other countries are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. The CDC recommends postponing all non-essential and non-urgent dentist appointments until further notice. This includes routine teeth cleanings, dental exams, basic dental procedures, and oral surgeries. These precautions were taken to protect the health of dentists and patients.
General dentists are only accepting emergency dental appointments at this time. Information about emergencies, including who qualifies for these procedures, can typically be found by calling your local dentist office. Most practices have left voicemail messages regarding this information.
Dental specialists, such as endodontists and oral surgeons (who typically provide the most urgent dental care), may only be open on specific days each week. However, these appointments are saved for those needing treatment for life-threatening dental conditions only.
General dentists and dental specialists are only offering appointments for those with life-threatening oral health conditions or patients in excruciating pain. The following conditions may qualify, depending on the patient and their current situation:
If you have throat, mouth, or head cancer that requires urgent treatment, you may qualify for an appointment. Call your dentist to determine the best option to ensure you both stay healthy.
If you have untreated periodontal disease (advanced gum disease) that has worsened over the last few weeks, you may qualify for an emergency visit. In particular, if you are experiencing severe pain or abnormal bleeding, it is important to call your local dentist office to determine a plan of action.
Untreated periodontal disease can be life-threatening. Depending on whether the bacteria has spread to your bloodstream, the disease can lead to potentially fatal infections. It can also travel to your heart or other vital organs.
While minor cavity fillings will typically not qualify for an emergency appointment, severe cavities might. Depending on the severity of decay and how much pain the patient is in, they may need urgent treatment to prevent further infection. If severe decay is left untreated, it can result in extreme tooth pain, tooth loss, or improper organ function.
Most dental conditions and infections are not life-threatening and, therefore, are not considered emergencies. These procedures include:
Fortunately, many dentists around the U.S. are doing phone consultations and photo texts to determine the need for treatment or to prescribe antibiotics. So, if you are worried about your teeth or oral health, call your local dentist office to see if they offer this service.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), there are some precautions you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19. In addition to postponing all non-essential appointments and social distancing, prevention tips include:
“Advice for Public.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public.
“CDC Recommendation: Postpone Non-Urgent Dental Procedures, Surgeries, and Visits.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/statement-COVID.html.
Dave, Manas, et al. “Urgent Dental Care for Patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Lancet, 2020, doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30806-0.