Helping Our Dental Patients Through the Coronavirus Crisis
By Dr. Marty Jablow
As this coronavirus situation has unfolded, all of us – your dentist, the dental staff, and our patients – have been faced with questions about how to lead our daily lives while being told we must stay at home. And we’ve all felt how uncomfortable and frustrating the uncertainty and restrictions can be. My staff and I have seen that those feelings are magnified when your health, or that of a family member, is the cause of that uncertainty.
We’re now getting numerous questions every day from our dental patients, about handling their dental appointments and needs, since the stay at home measures went into place. We hope that by sharing the answers to the most common questions you’ll feel more confident in dealing with your dental health during this time.
Is my nearby dental office open?
Most likely your local dental office is only open for dental emergencies. On March 16th, the American Dental Association issued guidelines advising dentists nationwide to postpone elective procedures. These initial guidelines were recently updated to recommend that this postponement continue through April 30th. In New Jersey, the State Board of Dentistry has strongly recommended based on Center For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that all elective procedures in dental offices need to be postponed until April 20, 2020. At the Dentists of Woodbridge we have chosen to follow the New Jersey board recommendation along with the state mandate. Not only will this help limit exposure to and transmission of the virus for patients and staff, but it also helps preserve and extend the supply of personal protective equipment which is badly needed in both hospitals and dental offices.
Dental offices are allowed to see patients that are having an emergency. At the Dentists of Woodbridge, we’re staffing the phones as we should be while we are all sheltering in place. So don’t worry if you should run into a problem – we can and will provide emergency care. You may be asked to video conference with your dentist. This is called Teledentistry and allows the patient and the dentist to have a consultation to assess your problem without you needing to come into the office. After the consultation the dentist can determine what the appropriate next steps may be.
Since all states and even towns are under different guidelines we recommend you check your dentist’s website first, and then call if you’re still unclear as to if the office is open for emergencies only or can handle elective procedures as well.
What is considered a dental emergency?
Dental emergencies, according to the American Dental Association, “are potentially life threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding [or to] alleviate severe pain or infection.”
What constitutes an emergency is actually pretty simple – it’s about pain or trauma. Some common dental emergencies include:
- Severe dental pain (most people think of this as a “toothache”)
- Pain from a wisdom tooth
- Post-operative pain from a dental surgery or procedure
- An abscess or localized pain and swelling
- A broken tooth resulting in pain or cutting your tongue or cheek
- A tooth being knocked out
- Dental treatment if a temporary crown or bridge is lost, broken, or causing gum irritation
Other emergency dental care includes extensive decay or defective fillings causing pain; removal of stitches; denture adjustments for radiation/oncology patients; denture adjustments or repairs to address difficulty chewing; replacing a temporary filling on a tooth with a root canal if you are experiencing pain; and snipping or adjusting an orthodontic wire or appliance that is cutting the lips or cheeks.
What happens when I get to the dental office with an emergency?
This may vary based on the protocols put in place by any individual dental office to maintain social distancing. In our office we are arranging appointments so that there should be no contact between patients. In fact, we are scheduling emergency appointments so that no two patients should be in the office at the same time.
Some offices may request you stay in the car and will text or call you when it is appropriate to enter the office. Others may space appointments so that no two patients should ever encounter each other. Either way your safety and reducing the possible spread of the virus between patients is of the utmost importance.
Dentists or their staff will ask questions and for everyone’s safety you’ll want to answer honestly. These questions may include:
- Have you had symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19? (common symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, running nose or sore throat)
- Within the past 14 days have you travelled by airplane?
- Within the past 14 days have you been in close proximity (less than 6 feet) at a gathering of 10 or more persons?
- Within the past 14 days have you had close contact with a person who has been confirmed positive or suspected to be positive for COVID-19?
You may be required to sign a Patient Request for Treatment, Representations and Consent document or just speaking with the dentist maybe enough. Dentists will also monitor the health of their staff in order to limit possible exposure to the virus.
If the dentist is then comfortable with the answers to the screening questions and your condition does need emergency attention, then he or she will render the appropriate treatment.
Even if you have what might qualify as an emergency, the dentist will evaluate if a procedure can be delayed for 30 days. This judgment would be based on assuring that waiting won’t cause you undue harm or pain. An example is a lost or broken filling where a temporary filling can be quickly and easily placed, allowing you to return in the future for the more involved final filling.
What safety measures will the office take if I have to come in for an emergency treatment?
As healthcare providers dentists and their teams are trained on the CDC guidelines for infection control and using the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as mask and gloves. If for some reason an office doesn’t have appropriate PPE available, they’ll refer you to another dental professional for your emergency treatment (in our office we don’t anticipate that happening and as of now we have a good supply of PPE). If we do need to provide emergency treatment we’ll attempt to minimize the use of equipment that creates airborne spray. This is a precautionary measure to limit the potential spread of the virus since any patient could be positive but undiagnosed and not yet exhibiting symptoms.
The Dentist of Woodbridge team has been trained in the latest ways to minimize the possibility of transmitting the virus. In our office we are requiring every patient to use hand sanitizer upon entering. We’re disinfecting every doorknob and countertop. From the front desk to the treatment rooms everything is wiped down between patient visits and at the end of each day. We are going the extra mile to make sure every inch of the treatment areas and equipment are disinfected.
If I’m missing my checkup should I do anything differently?
Make sure you are brushing and flossing. Do everything you would normally do as it is extremely important to continue to do the best job possible to maintain your oral health. Since many of us will have extra time on our hands make sure you brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes.
If you feel like you want to take extra steps to protect your hygiene during this time here are a few ideas:
- Use a powered toothbrush such as an Oral B or a Sonicare (my personal favorite)
- Use an irrigation device such as a Waterpik
- Use your favorite mouth wash such as Listerine with Flouride
- Floss – if you don’t currently floss it’s a great opportunity to start. You have the extra time and once you’re in the habit you’ll like the extra clean feeling while also strengthening your gums!
If my child or I am in orthodontic treatment will missing appointments cause harm?
The simple answer is “No”. Your teeth will just stop moving at some point. Once elective procedures are allowed again, treatment can easily be restarted, and your teeth will start moving from right where they left off. If you have aligners you may be able to have a teledentistry consultation and the dentist may possibly send you your next set of aligners. Otherwise continue to use your current aligner. Even though your teeth will generally stop moving after a week or two in the same aligner, it will act as a retainer holding the teeth in place until you can be seen for your next aligner.
Stay home, stay safe and know that we’re here for you.
During this time that we’re all asked to stay home unless you have a dental emergency, meaning pain or trauma, with basic home hygiene you can be comfortable that your dental health will be fine. If you’re still confused or unclear as to whether you need to be seen in the office, email us or call (contact detail is on our website at https://thedentistsofwoodbridge.com/contact/). My staff and the dentists are here for you, as are our dental colleagues for patients all over the country and the world for that matter.
During this time there will be a lot of things that may seem different in the dental office but as soon as the virus is under control and it is safe to return for normal dental treatment, we’ll be happy to welcome you back!
Stay Safe and Healthy!