The current coronavirus pandemic has changed many things in our everyday lives. We are unsure which activities are okay and which might put our safety at risk. These decisions can be tough, especially with so much confusion in our neighborhoods and schools. Here, our goal is to provide kids and their families with the best ways to stay safe at the dentist.
Do Dental Visits Put My Family at Risk of Exposure to COVID?
At the time of this article’s writing, many people are sick with COVID-19, which means that any activity outside your home carries some risk of exposure. Dental visits are different from other doctor visits, because your child must remove their mask to show the dentist their teeth. This is why many children and their parents assume dental practices are unsafe. We are happy to report that due to the many safety precautions we take, the risk for transmission of the coronavirus during a dental visit is extremely low! On the other hand, the risks involved in putting off important dental treatment can be very dangerous.
Why are Dental Visits Important?
Consistent dental visits contain two very important components essential to good health. When you miss a regular check up, your child is at a higher risk for dental problems.
Cleanings by the Dental Hygienist
Teeth cleanings don’t just make our teeth feel nice and shiny. They also remove disease-causing bacteria from our teeth and gums. Your child’s hygienist reaches the areas of their teeth that they cannot, to ensure your child’s mouth is free from the plaque and tartar that leads to nasty cavities. No one is a perfect brusher or flosser, so everyone needs help from professional teeth cleanings!
Oral Evaluations by the Dentist
If you think your child’s dentist is simply looking for cavities, you would be surprised to learn everything they actually see inside the mouth. The oral evaluation performed at each cleaning involves much more. While the dentist is indeed looking for cavities, he or she is also checking your child’s bite, diet, and brushing habits, to make sure the whole mouth is healthy! You can also have your child’s teeth protected with preventative fluoride and sealant treatments to reduce the risk of future cavities.
Has COVID Increased My Child’s Likelihood of Dental Problems?
We’ve all been home more than usual due to the coronavirus. When we change our regular routine and don’t have to go to school everyday, it’s easy to forget good habits, like keeping good bedtimes, limiting sugary snacks, and brushing our teeth. We should always remember to brush our teeth twice a day, and floss once a day to keep our mouths clean and healthy.
Can We Skip Teeth Cleaning Appointments if Nothing is Bothering Them?
In a recent poll, 40% of parents had not tried to get preventive care for their children since the pandemic started. Out of these parents, another 40% said didn’t want to risk exposing their child to COVID-19. However, 28% said they didn’t make an appointment because their child was not having dental problems. This uncovers the mistaken assumption that dental problems cause pain that we can feel right away. The truth is, many dental problems can be caught before your child starts to notice pain or other symptoms. This is called preventative care, and allows your child’s dentist to find cavities before they hurt. By waiting until something bothers them, you could be placing your child at risk for suffering from advanced cavities, tooth decay, or tooth loss. Though your child may still have their baby teeth, the damage caused could be significant to their overall oral health. Bacteria from untreated cavities will spread to attack neighboring teeth, gums, and possibly unerupted adult teeth. The further along these dental issues are, the more extensive the treatment becomes for your growing child. It is never good to delay visits and risk an emergency situation.
How Can I Ensure My Child’s Dentist is Safe?
Not all dentists are alike, and while most have updated their protocols because of the pandemic, you are wise to be cautious. When scheduling a dental visit, here are some important steps to take.
Ask Questions before Your Visit
When you are scheduling a dental visit for you or your child, ask the team member what additional protocols the practice has instituted to combat transmission of COVID-19. Listen for things like screening of all patients entering the office, mandatory mask wearing for anyone in the building, pre-treatment rinsing, and increased PPE for dental team members.
Protect Your Family
While you and your child are in the dental office, wear a face covering or mask at all times. Your child is safe to remove their mask once undergoing treatment. Wash your hands and be sure to use the hand sanitizer available for patients and families. Maintain a six-foot distance between yours and other families.
Understand The Dentist’s Risk
We mention this, not to raise concern, but to build your confidence that your child’s dentist is maintaining the strictest precautions against COVID spread. When you understand that your pediatric dentist and his or her team place themselves at the highest risk to provide your family with vital oral healthcare, you can trust that the precautions taken are enough to protect your family as well. While dentists and other dental team members are at the highest risk for COVID spread due to aerosol (tiny droplets of moisture from our mouths) exposure from patients, they are not suffering a higher rate of transmission. This proves that the protocols work! A study by the American Dental Association found that the rate of COVID-19 infection among dentists was less than 1%, which is far lower than that of other healthcare workers. Dentists have always been experts regarding infection control, and while COVID-19 presents the world with a new challenge, our team is proud to say that our implemented safety measures have met this challenge successfully.
What if I, or My Child, are at High-Risk for COVID-19 Infection?
Patients who are particularly high risk for severe cases of COVID-19 should take additional precautions with dental care. We can further minimize the already low risk of virus spread by ensuring your child has the earliest appointment each morning before other patients have entered the office. We recommend prioritizing any dental problems that could progress into urgent situations, and performing necessary treatment in stages that would eliminate multiple visits.
Oral Health and Safety: Your Next Steps
Good oral health is a vital part of your overall health and your body’s ability to fight infections of any kind, including COVID-19. Routine care is essential for maintaining good oral health for you and your child. Rather than putting it off, resolve to follow important measures and obtain essential dental care safely.