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Returning to the Dentist During the COVID-19 Pandemic

6 months ago

Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This column was published in the Gettysburg Times on May 21, 2020

Dental offices have been temporarily closed since mid-March. Many dental and dental hygiene appointments were cancelled indefinitely. For the past two months, dental care has been limited to emergencies of pain and/or infection. 

Now, since the PA Department of Health recently revised their guidance for dental offices, I want to prepare you for what you may see or experience when visiting the dentist during this COVID-19 pandemic.

First, you may be screened over the phone for any respiratory problems, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, as well as your travel history, a day or so before your appointment. On the day of your appointment, you may need to wait in your car instead of the “waiting room” upon your arrival to the office. Once in or at the office, you will be screened again and your temperature will be taken. As long as you successfully pass the questionnaire and your temperature is less than 100.4, you may be able to enter the dental office.

In the office, you may be asked to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, as well as wear a mask and possibly gloves. Your walk to the dental operatory will look different. Team members may be wearing masks, gloves, a gown and a face shield or goggles. You may see air purifiers or air scrubbers in the office. And you may see a large machine known as an extraoral vacuum machine or extra tools to collect aerosols that escape the working field.  

Getting your teeth cleaned? You won’t have that ultrasonic cleaner anytime soon. Dental hygienists will have to remove tartar with their hand scalers.

Having dental work? You may be asked to rinse with a hydrogen peroxide solution.  You have heard all about PPE and N95 masks. Well, dentists and their team members need to wear N95 or KN95 masks if they perform procedures that create an aerosol.  

The additional infection control procedures and the PPE required to treat patients during the pandemic is the responsibility of the dentist. Getting this PPE is not only costly but very difficult to acquire. Many items are on backorder and take weeks or months to receive. If dentists don’t have the appropriate  PPE, then they will not be able to see you. So, as long as the COVID-19 contagion is present, extra precautions are necessary to keep you the patient, the team members, the dentist and everyone’s loved ones safe.

What can you do to help your dental office? Stay home if you are sick in any way. Be patient as dentists and their team members restructure their offices to transition to the new “normal.” Keep your dental appointment (unless you are sick) since dental offices may need to limit their availability of appointments due to needing more time to prepare and disinfect the office for your arrival.  

Over the past 27 years of practicing dentistry, I have always approached my patients’ health with the utmost care—and today’s challenging times are no exception. I wish all the area residents the very best, including safety and good health. And—make sure you are still brushing your teeth twice a day to maintain your dental health!

Dr. Rita Tempel is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and owner of Gettysburg Smiles Cosmetic & Family Dentistry as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and owner of Sweet Dreams Gettysburg, 2018 York Road, Gettysburg. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow @ritatempeldds on Instagram, or like her Facebook page @Gettysburgsmiles or call 717-339-0033.

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