Dr. Scott Asnis’ dental office in Bellmore, New York, looks a lot different than it did in February.
Today, after checking in inside – where you and the receptionist are separated by a plastic barrier – you are asked to wait in your car until your dentist is ready to see you.
Once called back, you must don a face mask, while dental technicians take your temperature and have you wash your hands thoroughly. Then they ask that you gargle with a peroxide solution to kill any bacteria inside your mouth.
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Once in the chair, technicians at the dental chain he founded, Dental365, will not use the typical tools to clean your teeth. Any aerosols to clean your teeth are not used amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With these protocols implemented, Asnis says “the dental office is the safest environment to go.”
But only one in five adults have visited a dentist office amid pandemic, even though two in five adults said they’ve had dental issues since March.
That’s according to a new survey released Monday by Guardian Life, which also says one in four U.S. adults won’t be comfortable going to the dentist by the end of the year.
These statistics, however, don’t reflect the experience at Asnis’ practice. He said visits to Dental 365 “are up 27% from last July,” with the practice having seen 50,000 patients since March.
But he understands fears about going to the dentist now.
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So does Dr. Nadeem Karimbux, dean of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He also has seen an increase in visits to the university’s emergency clinic, but he attributes the uptick to the closure of private dentist offices during shelter-in-place orders.
“During the shutdown across the U.S., the one thing that dentists and dental schools were allowed to do was to treat patients that needed urgent or emergency care,” he said. Most of the dental school shut down, but not the emergency clinic, he said, which treated about a dozen patients a day during the three months that much of the country was on lockdown.
One patient was Bob Whitten, of Newtonville, Massachusetts. He said he was “very apprehensive” because he is at a higher risk for death from COVID-19 – he is 79, has cardiovascular issues, and previously had cancer – but had to seek emergency treatment in March for a fractured tooth.
His anxiety, however, abated when he saw that at Tufts “every precaution that could have been reasonably taken was taken.”
“Provided you as a patient took reasonable precautions by masking, and did the best to ensure that you maintained reasonable spacing between yourself and other patients, I think you would be safe to obtain emergency treatment,” he said.
As dental offices reopen, it is important that people return, Karimbux said, “because a lot of people did have active disease beforehand … and many of them have gone untreated for a period of three to three and a half months.”
Even more reason to schedule that dentist appointment: A study released Aug. 10 found that hospitalized COVID-19 patients with extreme gum disease were 22 times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory problems and to be placed on a ventilator.
“People shouldn’t ignore symptoms that they’re having in the oral cavity. Oral health is important for general health,” Karimbux said. “It’s important for people to recognize that you shouldn’t allow things to progress if you’re feeling symptoms.”
For those who are still anxious, Asnis said that when making an appointment, people should “certainly ask questions and make sure that there are policies and protocols in place so that the patient will always feel safe,” including protective gear, social distancing and air filters.
Karimbux said dentists who are open have prepared to ensure the safety of their patients, and are eager to see them return.
“People should feel very comfortable coming back into the dentist’s office,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of money and created a lot of protocols to ensure the safety of patients.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: People are putting off going to the dentist. But your dentist wants you back and has put precautions in place.
Gallery: Bleeding, swollen gums linked to severe COVID-19 cases (SF Gate)