As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on reopening and a return to "normal," many are still worried about visiting seemingly high-contagion spaces like the dentist’s office.
Dr. Alan Gluskin D.D.S. is the President of the American Association of Endodontists. He wants to ensure those antsy to get back into their dentist’s office for their routine cleaning or emergency procedures that there’s not much to worry about, as dentists are using high-standard Personal Protective Equipment and have been taking every precaution to keep their patients and staff safe.
He told KCBS Radio on Monday’s "Ask An Expert" that even when the pandemic first hit, 90% of endodontists were open to treat emergencies and a vast majority are up and running now, but there are some things to look out for when you get there.
"You should notice when you visit your dentist, that they’re wearing gloves, that when the gloves are off they are washing their hands, they’re wiping down surfaces in the office continually, that there are very few magazines, if any, out now," he said. "And when you’re in the chair, you should feel comfortable, that everybody is protecting themselves in meaningful ways for you, the patient."
With the specialized procedures endodontists perform, they have the advantage of using equipment that allows for physical distance between them and the patient.
"100% my specialty uses microscopes, which distances you from the patient by about one or two feet as they look through a microscope and magnify 10 or 20 times the kind of complex tooth they might be looking inside," Dr. Gluskin said.
His specialty also uses three-dimensional imagery that keeps the X-ray beam around the patient’s head, which helps endodontists avoid "invading" the mouth.
Dr. Gluskin added that patients concerned about scheduling their appointments so they’re the first visitors of the day could be potentially safer, but that it’s up to the dentist’s office to maintain good sanitation practices.
"When you are the only patient that’s been seen early in the morning, the office has been cleaned overnight and early morning," he said. "So you are in an environment that essentially that’s as clean as it’s going to be, but it should be cleaned continually during the day."
While some dentists do require that patients get tested for COVID-19 before going in for an appointment, the inefficiency and delaying of test results could make that measure redundant, so Dr. Gluskin said it’s crucial for staff to take a patient’s temperature before going forward with any procedures in addition to asking them questions about their health and travel schedule.
Like all spaces that are open again and required to comply with CDC requirements, dentist offices are sometimes charging patients anywhere between $10 to $50 extra for staff usage of PPE. Dr. Gluskin said that some insurance companies are reimbursing patients for these fees, and some are not.
When it comes to pain and dental emergencies, he emphasized that it’s not the time to skip seeing the dentist if you want to "save your tooth."
"There’s no such thing as a moderate toothache, that can’t turn into a major toothache," Dr. Glaskin said.
Even with routine procedures, he added that there’s no need to delay a dental visit, as it’s important to both oral and general health.
"Postponing a month isn’t the end of the world, but waiting a year might not be a good idea," he said.
The bottom line for dentists is ensuring that the following precautions are used: screen patients for history of travel; monitor for symptoms of infections; use COVID-19 screening questionnaires; utilize masks, goggles and rubber dams; frequently disinfect surfaces; let operatory space rest for 10 to 15 minutes (if possible); and request patients to sit in their cars when waiting for their appointment.
To find an endodontist in your area, Dr. Glaskin recommends this website.