Have you been to the dentist lately?
When did you last see your dentist? I haven’t been to mine in more than 9 months. I only know because I received a postcard in the mail today from the dental office. I’m usually diligent about my dental hygiene, and before Covid19, routinely scheduled a cleaning with my dentist every four months. These days, though, I don’t go out more than absolutely necessary, and wasn’t even sure the office was open.
When I do leave the house, I keep a healthy 6 foot distance between myself and other people, which is an impossibility at the dental office. And so I put off my dental appointment intending to reschedule once the world resumed some sense of normalcy. It was a reasonable plan until I realized this pandemic would continue to rock our world for longer than anyone anticipated.
Home dental care during the pandemic
Gum disease unfortunately doesn’t stop during a pandemic; it continues to progress. I’m one of those people who builds up plaque quickly. I learned the hard way that if not removed regularly, minerals from my overactive saliva cause the plaque to harden and turn it into tartar. At that point, my gums start to recede. The longer the tartar remains on my teeth, the harder it is to remove and the more my gums bleed during the process.
Last week, frustrated with the visible tartar I saw on my teeth, I ordered a home-use dental tool kit from Amazon. For about $30, I got an electric base with an LED screen with settings for 5 intensities of vibration and a rechargeable battery. The kit also included 3 different scraper tools and a dental mirror.
I wasn’t excited to scrape my own teeth, but I was also not yet ready to go back to the dentist. It turned out this little kit worked pretty well. It’s hard to work on your own mouth, so I know I missed some of the tartar and plaque – but I got alot off! My teeth look and feel much better. That being said, I’m well aware home dental care is not a substitute for going to the dentist, and I imagine if you scrape too vigorously you might cause some damage. If you decide to try it yourself, I recommend you proceed carefully.
Most dentists are now open for business
The ADA and CDC recommended early in the pandemic that dental offices close other than to treat emergencies. However, most now are open for non-urgent care too. As states continue to modify their months long stay-at-home orders, dental offices welcome you to once again schedule routine dental checkups and cleanings. But do you want to?
For now, I’m personally in the “thanks, but no thanks” camp. It seems I’m not alone. According to a recent survey from Guardian Life , only one in five U.S. adults visited a dental office since March 2020, even though two in five said they had dental issues. One in four said they don’t plan to see the dentist before 2021.
Is it safe to go?
“Not one single case of transmission of the virus has been traced to a dental office thus far – and that’s from the CDC.”
In other words, yes, it’s safe to go to the dentist. Dr. Shwarts explained that protocols for dentists were in place for contagious diseases like measles, influenza and AIDS long before Covid19. He added,
“Dentists receive extensive OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) training in Dental school that stresses the importance of treating every single patient as though they have the most contagious disease ever.”
The concern about the risk of transmission of Covid19 in a dental office is understandable. Some instruments used in the office can spray droplets of water, saliva, blood, microorganisms and more. Large droplets, which can stay in the air for up to 3 hours, can contaminate frequently touched surfaces or land directly on other people. These droplets potentially can spread the virus to employees or the next patient unless the staff takes strict precautions. Which most do. Dentistry, a high risk profession at any time, requires vigilant safety measures in the office; if you trusted your dentist to keep you safe before, it makes sense to trust they will do their best to minimize your risk now.
Dental visits look different now.
As dentists spend their careers face to face with potentially infected patients, they carefully follow safety recommendations under ordinary circumstances. Covid19 is more contagious than other viruses though, so dental offices around the country implemented additional protocols as well.
Some of the strict protocols followed by Shwarts Family Dentistry include:
- Patients and visitors pre-screened for symptoms of acute respiratory illness
- Disinfectant spray and wipes used in all areas in the office
- Hand washing and sanitizer use continue to be an important part of the practice (hand sanitizer dispensers located at multiple points throughout office)
- Doors remain open during office hours to allow touchless entry
- 3 patients maximum allowed in waiting area at any time, sitting 6 feet apart
- Magazines removed from waiting room
- No water cleanings – teeth hand-scraped (old school)
- Treatment rooms vigorously disinfected and cleaned after each patient
- Instruments sterilized after each patient
- Employees required to stay home if they or a family member is ill
- Clinical staff members wear recommended personal protective equipment
- Employees wear street clothes to the office, change into clean scrubs for work, then change back into their clothes before they leave.
The bottom line
We can’t completely eliminate the risk of covid19, but dentists minimize risks by following recommended safety protocols from the CDC. They keep up with the latest research and recommendations, and communicate clearly with patients about office safety measures. Don’t forget dentists and their employees have families and lives outside of the office; it is in their best interest as well as yours to take every precaution to ensure a safe environment.
As for me and my tartar issue, after my conversation with Dr. Shwarts I made an appointment with my dentist for mid-September.
Are you comfortable with a dentist visit during Covid19? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.