Dental teams by their very nature are familiar with cross infection control measures, risk assessment and universal personal protective equipment. Dental Healthcare Personnel wear a surgical mask, eye protection that covers the front and sides of the face, a gown or protective clothing, and gloves during procedures because of the likelihood of the spattering of blood, and most certainly saliva.
COVID-19 is our newly discovered coronavirus disease and newly experienced pandemic. Nothing in life has remained unaffected by it, and despite all hygiene and non-transference protocols, in a short period of time this virus has spread both to and within, all five continents and continues to affect communities regardless of borders, nationality, or climate. Official infection rates are in the hundreds of millions, deaths in the millions and we all secretly suspect the true numbers much higher.
As COVID-19 mutates so does our understanding of it. What we didn’t have before, we do now: better testing, better pathology, improved vaccines… and now also ‘long covid’ – where the acute 2-week phase of the disease lingers for months. Symptoms are varied and there has been little time for clinical studies, but evidence is emerging that this virus will be with us for a long time in more ways than one.
Current statistics show that 80% of patients recover within a month and 5% suffer symptoms that include exhaustion, cognitive impairment and shortness of breath for more than three months after the initial infection.
COVID-19 has similar transmission pathways to previous SARS-CoV infections, but they are certainly not identical. Considerations of hazardous workplaces, sites or activities have been raised across the globe. Among them, the potential of virus transmission through dental procedures.
Cross-infection from a trip to the dentist is rare and not unheard of; usually the result of a breakdown in basic injection practices and failure to autoclave instruments properly. Whether it be the result of an unfortunate one-time oversight or declining professionalism, if it’s an experience you’ve had you need another dentist.
Interestingly, there is no scientific evidence that preprocedural mouth rinsing prevents clinical infection among patients or staff. It’s an antimicrobial solution that reduces the number of oral microorganisms generated by the aerosols used during routine dentistry, and with invasive surgery it decreases the amount introduced into the patient’s bloodstream.
The accepted procedure for infection control in dental clinics is strict and rightly so; the pandemic has in no way replaced that but expanded it.
Every country in the world has been required to rapidly develop policies to counter the transmission of COVID-19. Medical advice, scientific evidence, lockdown strategies and guidelines from the WHO continue to both evolve, and be interpreted in very different ways.
It’s therefore of little surprise that the published guidelines for the safe and effective practice of dentistry in the ever presence of COVID-19, elicit just as much variation.
The concern about dental practice coronavirus transmission is widely recognised.
The New York Times reported dentistry as the most at-risk profession for COVID-19. Compared to other occupations, the sheer nature of dental procedures and proximity of dental team to patient is a ready environment for easy transmission without apposite approach to infection control.
Of course transmission is the most prominent concern of the pandemic; and still there is some uncertainty about the most suitable PPE for dentists and staff, and the most appropriate methods to adopt.
It’s perhaps is due to the lack of evidence-based research on the efficiency of the proposed guidelines in the worldwide wait for an ultimately effective vaccine. That’s time we can’t really predict, and if we can’t do that, best we don’t wait.
It’s critical that new and practical methods for dental clinics and surgeries be found so that much-needed oral care is available. The greatest impact for dentists has been the inability to practice during lockdowns, which are becoming more frequent and widespread.
So, How Have Dental Clinics Have Been Affected By Covid-19?
Dentistry is a proven essential service that is finding a ‘new normal’ in the safe provision of dental care.
Over the short and intense period of the pandemic so far, many suggestions and protocols have been issued in re-opening, or in the reorientation of dental clinics. Understandably however, most have been hastily formed: focussing on the ideal rather than the pragmatic. This long-term virus demands practical action so that it’s not the only thing to adapt and succeed.
Despite the numerous disadvantages, more than a third of dentists feel professionally confident and prepared to practice within the new pathogen paradigm COVID-19 delivers. Few have not had to make financial adjustments and hard-line decisions in order to continue persevering with PPE stock, extra regulations and protocols, increased patient anxiety and longer treatment times because appointment consistency has been lost. Patients are also more often presenting with the stress related symptoms of teeth grinding and gum disease – the result of the chronic inflammation caused by a stress-impaired immune system.
At the best dentistry is a highly stressful occupation. And these caring professionals have personal lives too that are filled with the pressures and anxieties we are all experiencing in varying degrees during this brave new world.
COVID-19 teaches us what we can live without; and what we most certainly can’t live without is proper dental care.
Show gratitude for the support your dentist has always given you by supporting them: make that dental appointment. Be flexible and accepting of possible date or time changes and necessary infection control routines that may be new to you.
Be human with each other.
None of what we’re living through and with, is easy. We chew the fat about that all day.
Much easier, with teeth.
Note: All content and media on the Elevate Dental website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
Services we mentioned:
It’s that time of the year, time for ghosts, ghouls, and cavities! Okay, well maybe not right away, but Halloween is one of the most sugar…
Brushing and flossing are the best ways to help prevent cavities, but it’s not always easy to clean every nook and cranny of your teeth…