COVID-19 and Dentistry

After an eight-week shutdown of dentistry, another hurdle would stand in our way: the challenge of who would be comfortable leaving their homes for a dental visit.

 by DCDS

Written by: Jordana Contrucci Ruiz, DMD (Dallas County Dental Society Member)

COVID-19 has dramatically affected both dentists and their patients. When dental offices were told that a shutdown was going into effect with no set re opening date, everyone was in a panic. After an eight-week shutdown everyone was excited to reopen and get back to a routine; however, another hurdle would stand in our way: the challenge of who would be comfortable leaving their homes for a dental visit.

Some patients could not wait to come into the office, whereas others were terrified. The news shared conflicting opinions about “is it safe to go to the dentist?” As a result, the ADA released a policy statement about how oral health is essential to overall health and dentistry is crucial, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients should not postpone their health care and should stay as healthy as possible. Now more than ever, the health of your mouth is also impacting the rest of your body. We are trying to keep our bodies as healthy and immune to disease as possible, so why would you neglect your teeth and gums? We can help fight infections in our body by keeping the bacteria in our mouths at a minimum and under control. An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes, preterm labor, and Alzheimers disease.

Dentists and public health experts are concerned that Americans are putting off routine cleanings which could compound health issues in the mouth. Everyone should be diligent about their personal health at home, including flossing and brushing twice a day and keeping their dental appointments. A dental office is one of the safest places you can be if every necessary precaution is being taken. During these trying times, we are adapting how we work: one patient is allowed in the door at a time and they are screened before they walk into the office, we are wearing more personal protective equipment such as N95 masks and a face shield and we are using a type of suction device attached to the patient’s mouth to vacuum any aerosols at the source. These additional safety measures are making patients feel more at ease and happy to come to the dental office.

Now more than ever we are dealing with patients who are anxious and fearful to leave their homes. The added stress of the unknown is not only affecting people emotionally but also dentally. We are seeing an increase in TMJ, clenching and grinding, which is leading to more broken crowns and restorations. People are wanting to do bigger cosmetic cases and Invisalign because wearing a mask covers their face most of the day. And wearing a mask all day has made patients more aware of their own oral health—they can smell their own breath and we have had an increase in new patients wanting to get their mouths healthy.

The big question is when will life return to normal, or is this our new normal? No one knows the answer, so for now it is our job to make patients informed and as comfortable to come to the dental office as possible.