NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — While New Jersey residents have cautiously started going to hair salons, outdoor restaurants and doctor’s appointments again, many are still reluctant to see one person in particular: The dentist.
The American Dental Association said they expect dental revenues to be down by as much as 40 percent by the end of 2020. And as recently as two weeks ago, the American Dental Association said they “respectfully yet strongly disagree” with advice from the World Health Organization, telling people to avoid routine dental care due to coronavirus risk.
Cecile Feldman, the dean of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark, said she thinks seeing a dentist is actually low risk according to current knowledge of the virus.
She also clarified that the World Health Organization recommends continuing routine care except in hot spots where there is “intense uncontrolled community transmission” — which isn’t the case in New Jersey as of late August.
She also said she is not aware of any documented cases of someone getting COVID from their dentist, or a dentist getting COVID from a patient.
The following is a Q&A with Feldman:
Is it safe to go to the dentist during the pandemic?
Yes, because of the precautions dentists are taking. In keeping with American Dental Association guidelines, patients at the dental school are screened for symptoms both the night before and the day of an appointment.
At the dental school, we require patients to wear face coverings when entering the building and our providers wear gowns, gloves, face shields, head covers, surgical gowns and N95 masks. The CDC issued guidelines for re-opening in June, and the American Dental Association encourages regular dental visits.
Why is it important to continue dental visits?
Untreated dental disease is only going to get worse. And we know there’s a link between oral health and systemic health. For example, poor periodontal health is associated with heart disease. The providers at the dental school are finding that our patients have been eager to come back.
Are there any documented instances of patients contracting COVID from dental visits?
None that I know of. Especially for the past 35 years, dentists have known the importance of using PPE and keeping their offices and dental instruments clean. In the 1980s, before the HIV/AIDs crisis, dentists didn’t wear gloves, masks, surgical gowns or eye protection. With COVID, when we know more, we’ll be able to determine if the extra precautions we’re taking are necessary.
What other measures were instituted at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine to help protect patients and providers?
We’ve added high-efficiency air filters that improve the amount of outside air and decrease the amount of recirculated air. Student doctors meet patients and bring them to clinics to reduce the number of people in waiting areas. Patients cannot bring extra people unless absolutely necessary. We’re at half-capacity so there are 20 feet between every patient. We continue to use high-speed suction devices, now with an additional student assigned just to hold the suction device to ensure the collection of aerosols.