Going to the family dentist used to be routine, but like so many ordinary events, a dental visit during the COVID-19 quarantine period raises questions about safety. Seeing the dentist is the opposite of social distancing; it’s necessarily up close and personal. Even with stay-at-home orders in place, some medical treatments are essential, including urgent dental care. Fortunately, sound infection control precautions and diligent social distancing can make your visit safer and relatively stress-free.
While no one is sure when everyone can return to their usual routines, your dental care team is here for urgent and emergency dental care. Here’s a closer look at when you should call your dentist in Scottsdale, what you can do to be safer during your visit and how you can take precautions to avoid emergencies.
Urgent Dental Care or Routine Maintenance?
The American Dental Association has issued guidance recommending postponement of any non-essential dental care, but what does that mean for you and your family? What counts as urgent dental care, and what can you safely reschedule?
Urgent care generally involves pain, infection or a state that can lead to infection. If you have any of the following conditions, your dentist can see you.
- Pain or inflammation
- A lost filling or crown
- A broken tooth
- Persistent bleeding
- Post-surgical care, including removal of stitches
Routine maintenance that you can safely defer until later might consist of:
- Dental cleanings, including scaling
- Fluoride treatments and sealants
- Veneers and cosmetic procedures
- Fillings in teeth that have no pain
- Dental X-rays
- Tooth whitening
- Cosmetic dentistry
Infection Control Precautions
Many of the precautions dentists and dental hygienists take to help keep you safe from other pathogens also provide good protection against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on cleaning surfaces are in line with practices your Scottsdale dentist is already using.
Monitoring Staff Health
The people who care for your teeth must also care for their own health, and dental health care providers who have any flu-like symptoms are to stay at home for their safety and yours. Hygienists and dentists can also take precautionary measures by taking their temperature twice daily and staying alert to any changes.
Adding Personal Protection Equipment
From sinks to countertops, all surfaces in a dentist’s office are designed for easy cleaning and disinfecting. Paper chair covers and single-use aprons also provide another layer of protection for you when you’re having dental work done. You’ll also see that your dental care providers wear gloves and masks. These items protect you from contact, and they are part of the ADA’s guidelines on COVID-19 safety. Gowns and face shields add even more protection against pathogens.
Giving Dental Patients Time and Space
It isn’t possible to keep at arm’s length once you’re in the dentist’s chair, but social distancing matters in the waiting room too. Minimizing contact by staggering appointment times and cleaning common areas between visits can help keep everyone safer. Your dentist’s waiting room may not have the usual assortment of magazines to read, so bring along your own book or other entertainment in case you have a brief wait while the exam room is thoroughly cleaned for your appointment.
What You Can Do Now to Prevent Urgent Dental Care Visits
Dental care professionals are here for you when you need them, but it’s better not to have to make that emergency appointment. Being proactive with your dental health could let you avoid a visit during times of social distancing and restricted travel.
Skip the Sugar
To paraphrase a proverb, the best time to stop eating sugar for the sake of your teeth was years ago; the second best time is today. Sugar tastes good to you, but it’s also a favorite food for the bacteria responsible for tooth decay. As they eat the residual sugar, they produce acidic compounds that destroy tooth enamel. By swapping products that contain sugar for those that contain other sweeteners or are unsweetened, you give harmful bacteria less to eat.
If desserts are too good to pass up, follow them with a generous swish of water to remove sugary residue. Water removes food particles that could otherwise become a feast for bacteria. Shutting down that bacterial buffet in your mouth is smart no matter what you’re eating, but it’s especially important after eating or drinking something high in sugar.
Balance Your pH
Water has another important benefit that makes it a great choice for drinking alongside and after your meals. It’s pH-neutral, or close to it, which means it dilutes acids from food or bacteria that can damage tooth enamel. Brushing twice daily is important too, but in between brushings, drink water. It’s your mouth’s best friend aside from your toothbrush.
Wear a Mouth Guard
Whether you’re an essential worker who bikes to work or getting some fresh air while social distancing by going climbing or hiking, consider a mouth guard. Protecting your teeth from loss or breakage could help you avoid an emergency dental visit.
Save Your Teeth
Teeth are for food, not opening packages or crunching on ice. Cracks and chips could expose your teeth to infection and send you to the dentist for an urgent care appointment. If you have an ice-chewing habit, consider switching to sugar-free gum. Certain foods can be perilous to fragile teeth too, so if you know popcorn gives you trouble or that caramel gets stuck in your bridge-work, choose other foods for now.
Should You Visit Your Dentist?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if that inflammation is from last night’s hot pizza or if you’re seeing the beginning of something more serious. You might have more time to notice details like that little chip on your incisor and wonder whether now’s the time to repair it. Maybe you just have a question about whether to brush before or after meals. If you have any concerns about your oral health, call your dentist directly. Your dental care team may be able to help you over the phone. If you need to schedule an in-person appointment, you’ll get specific instructions on how to make it as safe as possible.