Now that people are emerging from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown and starting to resume some activities, you might be wondering if it’s safe to go to the dentist. The answer is yes. Even before the pandemic, dental offices were required to maintain very strict hygiene practices. And, since the pandemic started, most dentists have been working very hard to implement even more measures to protect themselves, their staff and their patients from COVID-19.

Things will be different at the dentist’s

Because COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets from the mouth and nose, you will probably see quite a few changes at your dentist’s office to help prevent the spread of the virus. Most of the staff is going to have a lot more protective garb on – face masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves. Other changes you may encounter include:

  • Temperature checks and health questions when you arrive at the office.
  • Changes in how you wait for your appointment. You may be asked to wait in your car or outside the office instead of in waiting rooms.
  • No more video games, magazines, books and toys in the waiting room.
  • Dentists may want to minimize the number of times you come in, so they might do multiple procedures at once.
  • Limits to the number of people that can accompany children. Most dentists are limiting one adult per child.
  • Additional ventilation like air purifiers.
  • Online forms that are filled out before the visit rather than paper forms filled out in the waiting room.

Many dentists also have videos or FAQ lists on their websites detailing the changes they have made and what to expect when you walk into the office.

Things you might want to ask your dentist before the visit

Because of all these changes, you might find it helpful to call your dentist before the appointment to get an idea of what’s in store for you and your kids. Some possible questions to ask include:

  • How long should I expect to be at the office?
  • Can I go all the way back with my child? (Some practices have installed video cameras so parents can watch their child if they’re not allowed to accompany them.)
  • Is there a waiting room or will I be asked to wait in my car or outside the office?
  • Can I bring my other children?
  • What can I do with my other children while my child is seeing the dentist?

What about going to the orthodontist?

Orthodontists are required to maintain the same safety practices as dentists and they too have been working hard on additional measures to protect themselves and their patients. So it’s definitely okay to go back. If you have a relationship with an orthodontist already, call them and ask about the treatment that is happening and what their recommendations are. There are a few procedures that are growth-related that may have an impact if you wait too long.

If you don’t have an orthodontist already, call your dentist and ask them about the proposed treatment and what your options are.

What to do if you’re really nervous about going to the dentist

While some families may be eager to resume normal activities, others may be a bit more hesitant and nervous about doing things like going to the dentist. If you’re worried, don’t forget that your dentist is still the same person you’ve known for years who has been taking care of your kids’ teeth. You already trust their office, practice and team and they have been working hard to make their place safe for everyone.

Your dentist will be more than willing to answer any questions or address concerns you have. They understand that things have changed. So call them ahead of time and talk to them about your fears and concerns – give them the chance to address them and explain the new policies they have in place. It might be possible to delay dental care for a few months until you’re comfortable going back. But be sure to make this decision with your dentist and not just by yourself – some procedures can’t wait! The important thing is that you reach out and talk to your dentist now and make a decision together about what’s best for your family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anupama Tate Anupama Tate, DMD, MPH, serves as Director of Pediatric Dentistry at Children's National, and is also an assistant professor at The George Washington University. She is a recognized leader in the field of pediatric dentistry.

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