With the pandemic throwing normal life out of gear and the fear of catching the virus confining people to their homes, there are very few good reasons to venture out. However, any dental emergencies like facial trauma, dental abscess, swelling and uncontrolled bleeding or pain may need urgent attention and care. Even if you wish to undergo a non-urgent dental procedure such as teeth whitening, orthodontic braces, cosmetic bonding or implants, you may wonder whether to book a dental appointment right away or wait a little bit longer.

As a patient, it is best to inform yourself about how safe it is to visit a dental clinic. Are there adequate infection control processes in place so that you may receive treatment without any fear or concern?

Even prior to the pandemic, dental professionals were required to follow very strict hygiene practices as the procedures involve close contact with patients, direct contact with oral fluids or blood, and exposure to respiratory tract secretions and contaminated equipment.

Let’s take a look at what are the preventive guidelines followed by dental care settings to protect patients and staff from exposure to COVID-19.

Safe screening of patients

  • Tele-screening of patients for fever or respiratory symptoms prior to arrival or when scheduling appointments.
  • Checking for temperature and illness screening of all patients on arrival.
  • Rescheduling appointments or teleconsultation for patients showing symptoms such as fever, sore throat, sneezing, cough or breathing difficulty.
  • Rescheduling appointments for patients who have been in contact with confirmed COVID-19 positive patients or with recent history of travel to COVID-affected countries.
  • Maintaining records of all patients treated including contact and address details.

Infection control in the dental clinic

  • Placement of hand sanitisers in the entrance, reception area and other places.
  • Patients and visitors wear masks and maintain social distancing while inside the clinic.
  • Air purifiers with proper HEPA filters to improve air quality.
  • Staggered appointments to reduce the number of people present in the clinic at any given time.
  • Dentists and dental staff undergo daily temperature checks and illness screening.
  • Dental personnel to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) or gown, mask, gloves and eyewear to minimize the risk of disease transmission during the procedure.
  • Use of a rubber dam when appropriate to reduce exposure to infectious agents.
  • Cleaning and sterilization of the dental chair, equipment, and all surfaces in the treatment room between patients.
  • Periodic fogging of the operatory with disinfectants for total disinfection.
  • Regular cleaning and disinfection of counter surfaces, chairs, door handles and toilets.

Teleconsultation for patients

Many dental clinics are providing teleconsulting facilities to patients. It provides better access to dental care as pandemic related concerns, travel restrictions, or illness-related reasons can make it hard for patients to visit the clinic. Being able to access the physician when needed goes a long way in mitigating stress and anxiety which can otherwise overwhelm the patient.

Patients can opt for teleconsulting a dentist prior to arranging a face-to-face consultation at the clinic. It is a safe way to assess the patient’s condition and provide diagnostic or therapeutic advice. The patient should be advised to visit the clinic only if required as all oral health conditions cannot be managed in this manner.

Also, patients can avoid unnecessary visits to the clinic in cases where follow-up assessment can be done virtually.

Dental emergencies

Pain management

Conditions such as tooth fracture or trauma, dental intrusion/extrusion, knocked-out tooth, chipped or broken tooth may require you to seek urgent dental intervention for pain relief.

After clinical diagnosis and assessment of the painful condition, you may be provided nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, opioids, and combination drug therapy to manage pain.

Root canal treatment

An emergency root canal procedure is required if your tooth is damaged due to trauma or severe decay resulting in pain in the affected tooth. The procedure is very useful in preserving the affected tooth and the health of the surrounding teeth and structures, preventing the spread of infection, and avoiding further complications.

Root canal treatment involves removing the damaged or infected pulp and nerve from the tooth, cleaning and shaping of the root canal, and then filling and sealing up the space. The dentist will later restore the tooth with a crown or use other restoration procedures.

Infection and inflammation management

You may need to seek emergency dental intervention if you develop inflammatory conditions such as periodontitis, pulpitis, abscess, cellulitis or pericoronitis (inflamed gums).

The doctor may initiate antibiotic therapy for cellulitis and drain the abscess and start pain management with NSAIDs or opioids. For gum inflammation, hot salty mouthwashes and irrigation is recommended. A root canal treatment or dental extraction may be necessitated to arrest the infection.

When to schedule your next dental appointment

If you are experiencing acute dental pain, bleeding or other dental concerns, it is important to seek a dental appointment as soon as possible. You can always call up the clinic and enquire what they recommend based on your condition and if it is safe for you to visit the clinic at this time.

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