A: YES! Delaying preventative and emergency dental care can have negative consequences on your overall health. COVID-19 infection among dental health professionals remains low despite the close proximity to patients and open mouths.
It’s important to 1) maintain risk mitigation strategies we can control in dental offices, 2) monitor local infection rates, and 3) stay home if you are not feeling well.
Your oral health is important. Poor oral health has been linked to cardiac disease, respiratory disease, nutritional deficiencies, and other conditions. Delaying dental care can lead to problems that require longer and more invasive procedures to repair (thus increasing infection risks) while also negatively impacting your overall health. Prevention is key! Don’t wait until there is a problem.
Dental offices do not demonstrate increased COVID-19 cases, in spite of the open mouths. A U.S. study published in December 2020 among 2,195 dentists who responded to a national survey found less than 1% of dentists reported SARS-CoV-2 infection. Another similar study surveyed dental hygienists and found an infection rate of 3.1% among 4,776 hygienists. These relatively low rates of infection among dental professionals are likely due in part to enhanced infection control practices and the adoption of universal precautions to prevent the spread of infection prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dental health professionals are used to working inside mouths and adopted a number of infection prevention measures well before the time of COVID-19. Many dental offices have increased their infection control practices. Since 6 feet of distance and continuous use of a face mask is out of the question, maintaining other strategies such as short visits and proper ventilation are even more important. Effective strategies include keeping the waiting room empty, upgrading staff face masks to medical grade and N95s, using oral and face shields, minimizing the use of equipment that can aerosolize spit particles that may or may not contain COVID-19, and sanitizing the air and common surfaces. You can call your dentist to ask about the safety measures in place.
When deciding if you should attend an appointment, consider the exposure you present to the dental providers. If you are sick or have had a recent exposure to someone with COVID-19, reschedule your dental appointment. If your area experiences an uptick in local infection rates, weigh the urgency of your visit with the community risk of infection and consider tightening your pod before the appointment or rescheduling. Vaccination is a plus, but not a requirement for the dental chair.
Now please excuse this Nerdy Girl as she goes to schedule dental appointments for her kids!