Going to the Dentist During the Coronavirus
During the age of coronavirus, dentists are changing the way they conduct dental care.
Most dentists have postponed routine appointments since the pandemic began, although those who can adhere to new state health requirements may begin reopening.
However, even amid coronavirus (COVID-19), dentists are seeing patients with dental emergencies.
More than ever, it's important to do everything you can at home to keep your teeth and gums healthy. The pandemic is likely to last beyond your next biannual dental check-up and hygiene appointment.
Questions for the Dentist
If you do have a dental emergency, call your dentist for guidance.
However, you might have questions about going to the dentist while the coronavirus is active or about how changes to your routine might affect your teeth. The dentists at UM Rehabilitation & Orthopedic Institute, which offers comprehensive dental services for adults and children with special needs, have some answers.
Are dentists open?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended going to the dentist only for emergency or urgent care at this point during the pandemic. This is to help patients and dental staff stay safe without adding to the nationwide shortage of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential health care workers.
If you are experiencing any dental pain, swelling, abscess or uncontrolled bleeding, do not hesitate to call your dentist.
What is teledentistry?
Dentists are utilizing technology in new and exciting ways during this pandemic. Teledentistry allows dental emergencies to be resolved while maintaining the safety of the patient and staff.
Teledentistry is when dentists are able to consult, diagnose and provide certain emergency care over the telephone or through other technology to deliver dental care. This enables the dentist to evaluate you and determine any emergency treatment you might need.
Is it safe to go to the dentist?
Patient safety has always been a guiding factor in dental practices. Dentists are following guidelines from the CDC and the American Dental Association, as well as state regulations.
If you have to have an emergency procedure, or later when dentists reopen, you may notice some changes designed to keep you safe.
- Staff might wear masks and face shields.
- You might be asked to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet from other patients in the waiting room.
- Appointments might be spaced out, and you might be asked to not arrive early.
- Your temperature might be taken, and you will be asked questions about coronavirus symptoms.
- Your mouth might be covered with a rubber dental dam.
There might also be changes that you can't see, including additional cleaning of the procedure rooms, equipment and waiting areas. The dental practice should be screening employees for symptoms and fever.
How do I know if something is a dental emergency?
Call your dentist if you are experiencing:
- Dental pain
- Bleeding that won't stop
- A broken tooth or crown
- Signs of infection, such as swelling and pain
On a case-by-case basis, your dentist will be able to address the specific concern and provide instructions.
If you do not have a dentist, you can call the dental services team at UM Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute at 410-448-6290.
If you suspect that a nonverbal family member is experiencing dental pain, call the dentist who normally sees this family member. The dentist will be able to address the specific concern and provide more specific instructions, including whether it is necessary to come to the office for an emergency exam.
When will dentists reopen for routine appointments?
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued new orders in May allowing dentists to resume elective procedures starting May 7, 2020, as long as the dental practice adheres to Maryland Department of Health (MDH) orders before reopening.
The MDH requirements include many that already were in place for emergency dental procedures, including proper hand and cough hygiene, social distancing and PPE. The regulations are rigorous to ensure the safety of the patient, the dental team and the community.
The Maryland State Dental Association will continue to share information as new developments arise.
How do I keep my teeth and gums healthy until I can see the dentist?
Now is not the time to take risks with your oral health. It is more important than ever to brush two times a day, for two minutes, with a fluoridated toothpaste. Flossing daily is essential to help prevent cavities between teeth and to keep your gums healthy.
If you cannot find floss or toothpaste when you go to the grocery store, you should keep trying. Many online retailers can ship them directly to your front door. If you're getting groceries or prescriptions delivered, you can probably get floss and toothpaste from the same sources.
If you run out of toothpaste, baking soda or salt are not adequate substitutes. Fluoride is a main active ingredient in toothpaste, and it is essential in helping to remineralize teeth and prevent tooth decay.
How important is it that I use mouthwash?
Mouthwash should be used only as a supplement in a daily oral hygiene routine that includes twice-a-day brushing with fluoridated toothpaste and daily flossing.
I'm drinking more coffee and tea since working at home. Is that bad for my teeth?
Coffee and tea stain teeth, but if you are not adding sugar, honey or syrup, the risk for cavities is low.
It's best to avoid sweetened drinks altogether, but especially do not slowly sip a sugary drink throughout the day. The constant presence of sugar in your mouth keeps your teeth even more vulnerable to cavities.
Can the acid from some drinks also promote tooth decay?
Drinks that are more acidic, such as tea with lemon, white wine and even unsweetened coffee, can harm the enamel on your teeth by allowing demineralization to occur. Increased frequency of these drinks can lead to cavities and tooth sensitivity.
You can get more information about this and other tips about caring for your teeth from the American Dental Association.
Thanks to Our Expert
- Lobna Zada, BDS, MSD, DScD – Chief of Dental Services at University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, Clinical Instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry