What to Expect When Visiting a Dental Clinic during COVID-19

19th February 2021

COVID-19 pandemic had made significant changes on our daily lives. Many of us had embrace and adapt the new norm to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Dental clinics are allowed to operate during Movement Control Order period as it is categorized as essential service. However, like all health care services, dental clinics had implemented more safety guidelines for patients and dental staffs to reduce the risk of the transmission. Resulting in a different look when you visit the dentist. Here are several things you may expect upon returning to a dental clinic :

Before Treatment

Dental clinic staff will conduct screening and contact tracing before commencement of your treatment. This usually includes body temperature scanning and answering a contact tracing questionnaire. You are required to wear a mask while in the clinic as it had been mandated by the government at the time of writing. Seating available in the waiting room will be limited due to social-distancing limitations. Dividers or instruction guidelines will be visible throughout the clinic to ensure effective infection control. Hand sanitizers may be available for you to use upon entering the clinic.

During Treatment

During treatment, you may realize differences compare to your last visit. Dental appointments may take longer time than usual during this period. Clinic personnel may wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) other than protective equipment used previously to ensure safety of the patient and clinic personnel involved. These equipment may include face shields, gown and googles.

After Treatment

After completing your treatment, clinic staff will start cleaning the area used with the correct disinfectants. This measure could reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to the next person using it. If you start developing symptoms of COVID-19 within a week of your appointment, inform the dental clinic. This is important as you may have been carrying the virus during your visit to the clinic earlier, therefore anyone who had contact with you may be at risk of getting it too.

What are the risks of getting COVID infection at the dentist? Is there any special protocol in dentistry?

Current evidence suggests that transmission of COVID occurs primarily between people through direct, indirect, or close contact with infected people through infected secretions such as saliva and respiratory secretions, or through their respiratory droplets, which are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings.

Dentists are aware that many dental procedures do involve aerosol droplets, for example, water spray from the dental hand piece and ultrasonic scalers. Hence, before starting any dental procedures, all patients will be asked to gargle with Betadine or hydrogen peroxide mouthwash for half a minute to reduce bacterial and viral count in the mouth. All dental personnel do take extra precautions in ensuring the chances of cross contamination is minimized by ensuring sanitization and sterilization processes are done properly, personal protective equipment (PPE) are worn throughout the presence of any patients, strong suction to minimize aerosol droplets generated from our equipment, and by adhering to the SOPs mentioned above. When all SOPs and precautions are followed, risks of COVID transmission in dental practices will be at minimal.

Should I visit a dentist if it's not an emergency?

Most dental clinics are now prepared to operate under the 'new normal' and the dental personnel are proficient in minimizing the risk of cross contamination, with this pandemic, we have increased the attention to sanitization to keep ourselves and our patients safe.

Dental diseases may progress from mild to moderate in around 6 months to a year's time if they are undetected and not manage. Hence it will be a good practice to continue to visit your dentist for your regular checkup. Postponing your dental appointment may cause your dental treatment to be more complex and more expensive, which can be prevented by adhering to your dental check-up schedule. During the pandemic, dental clinics generally will space appointments further apart to ensure full sanitization and sterilization of equipment and instruments in between patients to prevent cross contamination so please call in for your dental appointment instead of walking in to a clinic last-minute.

How can you social distance when you are in a dentist's chair?

In order to minimize risk of cross contamination, all dental personnel working in the dental clinic will be wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) including surgical face mask, face shield, head cap and surgical gown. Many dental procedures including filling and scaling will have aerosols (i.e. tiny water sprays) generated hence dental assistants will use a strong suction to minimize the chances of the aerosols spreading into the air and to the surrounding personnel.

The Author

Dr. Tan YiHan, BDS (VMU, India) is a board certified general dentist with special interest in orthodontics and oral pathology. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, his interest in oral pathology renewed. He soon embarked on a mission to educate the public about the preventive measures of Covid-19 from analytical and critical perspectives. As a result, he had garnered more than 200,000 viewers in less than one month and is committed to educate even more to the public.

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