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

NEED A DENTIST? ZOCDOC  WILL HELP YOU FIND ONE IN YOUR AREA

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. 

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.

CDC Recommendations: Dentist Appointments and COVID-19

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.

Should I Postpone Elective Dental Treatments Due to COVID-19?

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.

What is Considered a Dental Emergency?

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:

Oral Cancer Complications

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'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.

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.  

Other Oral Health Conditions

If you develop any of the following dental problems or symptoms, you may qualify for emergency dentistry: 

  • Severely cracked/broken tooth
  • Broken or injured jaw
  • Loose tooth
  • Missing tooth
  • Emergency root canal
  • Tooth extraction
  • A tooth abscess (ruptured or not)
  • Damaged dental restorations
  • Denture repair
  • Severe, persistent toothache
  • Ongoing gum bleeding

What is NOT Considered a Dental Emergency?

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:

  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. 

Teledentistry Options

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.

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 and help stop the spread of COVID-19:

  • Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with an alcohol-based scrub or hand soap.
  • Social distancing (6 feet) while in public areas.
  • Use hand sanitizer and other disinfectants.
  • 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.
  • All U.S. states recommend wearing a mask whenever you leave the house and in public places. Some states still require mask-wearing.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine (if possible).

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.

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