The rise of the global COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us second guessing what is or is not safe to do anymore.
When the stay-at-home order is lifted and our society slowly reopens, you may be due or overdue for your dental cleaning or have a cavity you were supposed to take care of before the COVID-19 pandemic precluded you from doing so. However, you may still wonder: Is it really safe to go the dentist anymore?
Currently, dentists’ offices are seeing only patients with urgent needs. That means that your dental cleanings will need to be postponed but your dentist will be able to take care of you if you have infection or pain. Gov. Jay Inslee stated that part of the reason for restricting treatment to urgent cases is to conserve PPE (masks, gloves, gowns, etc) that may be needed in hospitals to treat patients with COVID-19.
But what about when dentists are able to resume all of their services? Will it be safe to go in for your dental cleaning? In order to help you decide, I’ve answered some common questions below:
What is PPE? Why is it important in the dental office?
PPE is an acronym that you have probably heard A LOT lately. It stands for personal protective equipment. In a dental office, PPE includes a mask, gloves, eye protection and a gown or lab jacket. PPE is crucial in preventing the spread of disease such as COVID-19 and in protecting both patients and dental health care providers.
What does your dental office do to prevent transmission of infection?
Everyone that works at your dental office should be trained in OSHA standards for cleaning and sanitizing the office. All surfaces in the dental office are disinfected between patients. In the treatment rooms, this includes the dental chair, computers, counter tops, cabinetry and dental equipment. In addition, the reception area and restrooms should be disinfected frequently; in our office, we do this every hour. This process protects from bacteria or viruses that may collect on surfaces such as counter tops, chairs, door handles, faucets, etc.
Most offices sterilize their dental equipment in an autoclave, a device that uses high temperatures and pressure for steam sterilization. Anything that can’t be sterilized is disposable material.
Anyone involved in direct patient care wears proper PPE and washes their hands before and after patient care.
Will I be able to maintain a six-foot distance from others?
Your dental office may implement new protocols to maintain distance between patients. Some dental offices have a layout that allow complete separation of patients; these offices have individual, closed off treatment rooms rather than an open area or partial barriers. In order to prevent multiple people in the reception area, your dental office may reduce the number of chairs in the waiting room and ask you to arrive right on time (rather than early) for your appointment.
Your dental office may also be taking other measures to keep you safe. For example, in addition to all of the above, our dental office will also be taking temperatures of team members and patients when they arrive. Any employees or patients that have the fever or any flu-like symptoms will be asked to stay home/reschedule.
As a patient, you have the right to ask your dentist what precautions they are taking to protect your health. Your dental team should be glad to answer any questions you have and give you a tour of their sterilization center or a demonstration of their disinfection procedures.
Dr. Tina Subherwal maintains a private practice for family and cosmetic dentistry at Smile Studios in Redmond. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.