What To Know: Dentist Appointments and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Overview: What Is COVID-19?

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. 

CDC Recommendations: Dentist Appointments and COVID-19

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.

What Is Considered An “Emergency” Dental Condition?

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: 

Oral Cancer

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. 

Untreated Periodontal (Gum) Disease

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.

Untreated (Severe) Tooth Decay

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.  

What is NOT Considered an “Emergency” Dental Condition?

Most dental conditions and infections are not life-threatening and, therefore, are not considered emergencies. These procedures include:

  1. Small cavities, toothaches, and minor gum disease treatment (e.g., gingivitis).
  2. Restorative dental procedures, such as implants and crowns (some patients might qualify, depending on needs and pain level).
  3. Elective procedures, such as veneers, teeth whitening, and other cosmetic procedures.
  4. Routine teeth cleanings and dental exams. If you have an appointment scheduled already, your dentist will most likely call to reschedule it for a later date.
  5. Other non-urgent appointments that can be scheduled later on. 

Alternative Dental Services 

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. 

Protecting Yourself & Your Family Against COVID-19

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:

  • Reschedule upcoming non-urgent dental and medical appointments. 
  • Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with an alcohol-based scrub or hand soap.
  • Use hand sanitizer often.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or disposable tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Do not touch your nose, mouth, or eyes with unwashed hands. 
  • Self-isolate at home, especially if you do not feel well.
  • Do not leave your house unless you need to pick up medications, visit the doctor, or get groceries (once a week). 
  • Some U.S. states recommend wearing a cloth mask when leaving the house for essential needs, such as groceries or picking up medications. 
  • Stand at least 6 feet away from others when outside. 

Resources

“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.

Updated on: May 20, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
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