Although the novel coronavirus outbreak has forced the public to remain in their residences and caused businesses to either close or severely curtail operations, it won’t stop people from seeing a doctor if necessary.

The same should be said about needing a dentist — if it’s an emergency situation, do not forego an examination and needed treatment.

State officials, under a Department of Public Health directive in alignment with recommendations from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had ordered dental practices to “suspend routine procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent dental visits” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Dental procedures that use dental instruments (such as hand-pieces and ultrasonic scalers) and air-water syringes create a spray that can contain contaminated droplets.  

But those with a dental emergency — such as uncontrolled bleeding, severe pain, trauma and abscesses — should still contact their dental professional for treatment.

Patients should contact their dental office for guidance if they feel they have a dental emergency, and all dentists should be available to handle the emergencies of their patients of record — or have arranged coverage with another provider. Dentists can also offer guidance on whether a condition can be managed at home, or whether a patient should be seen for emergency treatment in a dental office. 

For emergency procedures to be performed on patients with or suspected of having COVID-19, dental health care personnel and medical providers should work together to determine an appropriate facility for treatment.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, dentists may only perform procedures that are needed to treat emergencies. Additionally, dentists must screen patients for COVID-19 and follow protective equipment protocols that should be taken to provide care for patients at this time.

Dental professionals are (or should be) aware that a failure to communicate with patients and/or treat them or refer them for treatment could lead to charges of negligence or patient abandonment — a form of dental malpractice. Dentists are responsible professionally and ethically to communicate treatment expectations with their patients of record.

During the temporary restriction of patient treatment to emergent care only, dentists must have in place clear protocols for patient communication and emergency treatment, including patient screening and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment for the dentist and dental staff.

The California Dental Association (CDA) continues to encourage the public to brush two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly. In addition, sugary food and drinks should be avoided to reduce the risk of cavities.

When conditions change, dentists will again be available to help maintain oral health through regular preventive and treatment services.

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