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.
If you are feeling sick or have been officially diagnosed with COVID-19, do not go to the dentist. Cancel your appointment and reschedule for a later date.
Most dental offices around the U.S. are open, despite COVID-19. You can set up normal appointments with your dentist. These include dental check-ups, cosmetic procedures (may be limited), restorative procedures, and surgeries.
Dentists and dental hygienists are required to wear personal protective equipment (e.g., face masks, glasses, and face shields) while performing dental work.
Also, make sure you wear a mask into the clinic. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer upon entering, and sit in the waiting room until your appointment.
Dental specialists, such as endodontists and oral surgeons (who typically provide the most urgent dental care), are also open for business in most states.
Most dental practices have implemented comprehensive safety measures to help protect you, the dentist, the dental team, and other patients. If you feel anxious about in-person appointments, call the office for alternative care options.
In 2020, dental offices were temporarily closed due to the pandemic. This is no longer the case.
The CDC recommended postponing all non-essential and non-urgent dentist appointments. This included routine teeth cleanings, dental exams, basic dental procedures, and oral surgeries. These precautions were taken to protect the health of dentists and patients.
In the U.S., people can undergo elective dental procedures, despite COVID-19. However, how many procedures are available is determined by the number of cases and the infection rate in the area.
If COVID-19 cases are rising in your area, your elective procedure may need to be canceled or rescheduled.
If you are experiencing severe dental pain, though, the procedure may not be considered "elective" anymore. This means you can set up an emergency dentist appointment and receive prompt treatment, even if cases are rising in your area.
For more information on emergency dental appointments and COVID-19, keep reading below.
Some people in high-risk groups are still uncomfortable with the idea of going to the dentist. However, if you have any of the following oral health conditions, treatment may be necessary:
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's 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.
If you develop any of the following dental problems or symptoms, you may qualify for emergency dentistry:
If you are nervous about visiting the dentist during the pandemic, you can either set up a teledentistry appointment or wait until you are comfortable.
If you have any of the following oral health conditions, treatment is not urgent:
Some dentists around the U.S. are offering phone consultations and photo texts. If you are worried about your oral health and don't want to visit the dentist yet, call your local dental clinic to see if they offer these services. If you have an urgent oral health condition (e.g., an abscess or extreme toothache), in-person treatment is necessary.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), there are some precautions you can take to protect yourself and help stop the spread of COVID-19:
“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.