Time to Stop Avoiding Your Dentist

Time to Stop Avoiding Your Dentist

Many of us — myself included — have been avoiding the dentist all year. That choice seemed sensible back in March. You can’t wear a mask while your teeth are being cleaned, and you certainly can’t social distance. But recently there’s been some good news from the American Dental Association: Few dentists have contracted COVID-19, and visiting them looks safe. It might be time to stop avoiding your dentist. Here’s why.

Even healthy teeth require regular attention — and for many of us it’s well past that time. And of course, a dental visit is not just about cleaning. Part of the package is checking for problems. In fact, if the stresses of 2020 have you clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth, you could crack or even break your teeth. Delaying care can make those dental problems (like cavities gone undetected) much worse.

Image Courtesy of  Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.

COVID-19 is still here, so what’s changed? 

No, coronavirus hasn’t disappeared, and recent reports suggest it’s on rise again in North Carolina. But a lot has changed in the last six months. We know more now about how COVID-19 is transmitted and how to reduce our risk.

Dental professionals have effectively put that knowledge to work in their practices. They are doing something (actually many things) right. And that means now might just be the time make that appointment and stop avoiding your dentist.

Your Dentist Has New Protocols to Protect You

Dentists have always sanitized tools and workstations. But in the past, most of the focus was on preventing blood-borne diseases. Today, heightened infection-control protocols focus specifically on protecting you from airborne pathogens like COVID-19. For example:

  • Screening. Patients are pre-screened by phone, typically 24 hours before their visit. They are asked about fevers, symptoms, travel, and potential COVID-19 exposure. On arrival, patients may be asked to wait in their cars until a clean treatment room is ready. Then as you enter the office, there’s another round of questions – and a temperature check — before the visit begins.   
  • Distancing. By alternating treatment rooms between patients, dentists work to create both spacial and time buffers – practices that help reduce the risk of exposure.
  • Updated procedures. Since the pandemic, dental practices have adopted new procedures for working on your teeth. These new protocols are designed to limit the production of aerosol particles.
  • Special HEPA air filters. This updated tech have been installed in some practices. These high efficiency filters are far more effective than systems at removing airborne particles.

There’s better PPE protection for dental clinicians, too.

Personal protective equipment (or PPE) continues to be the best tool dentists and hygienists have to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19. But many dental offices were closed earlier this year when that critical gear was in short supply. Fortunately, dental practices are now well-prepared to deliver safe care.  

Image courtesy of H Shaw on Unsplash.

That means dentists and hygienists wearing N95 face masks, goggles or plastic face shields to protect their mouths, eyes and faces. You may also notice floor-length gowns worn over top of their normal scrubs. Both the shields and gowns are easy to swap out and sanitize as needed.

Make That Overdue Appointment

So yes, it might just be time to stop avoiding your dentist — before you have a problem. And while you can’t wear your mask or be socially-distanced during dental care, know that your hygienist and dentist have successfully taken precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.

Finally, if you or a loved one are in a high-risk group, ask about early morning appointment times. Many practices reserve the first hour of the day for those patients with special medical concerns.

Visit our Health section for more coverage of safe care during COVID-19, and to keep up with the latest health news, including health literacyhealthcare costs and more!