Check your teeth. Do they feel clean? If it’s time for a dental cleaning, your wait time for an appointment may be longer than expected.
Most dental offices were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, except for emergencies. Some have reopened but are putting off scheduling cleaning appointments. Others are booked out so far that your teeth may feel beyond gritty by the time you get in.
Dental offices are still waiting to receive access to N-95 masks and disposable gowns for employees. The reopening process takes a long time as dentists and hygienists struggle to put together a safety plan for their facilities.
“The dental facility will have physical barriers, visual alerts, and no magazines or toys in the waiting area. Dental offices are properly maintaining ventilation systems that provide air movement. Some offices are considering HEPA air filtration units in each operatory,” said Rosalia Young, who is a registered dental hygienist in Northern California.
Got an Appointment? Don’t Let the New Process Confuse You
If you do get in for a cleaning, you’ll probably notice many changes in the procedure. Before the pandemic, dental hygienists used ultrasonic scalers, handpieces for polishing, and air-water syringes to clean teeth.
“These instruments create a visible spray that can contain particle droplets of water, saliva, blood, and other microorganisms which may include the SARS-CoV-2 virus [COVID-19],” said Young.
Scientists have published a study that indicates the novel coronavirus can linger in the air for hours and be transmitted via aerosols. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hygienists avoid using aerosol-generating procedures whenever possible and to use hand-scaling only.
“Many offices are choosing to reduce aerosols, so don’t expect your hygienist to use an ultrasonic scaler or have your teeth polished during this pandemic,” said Young.
Before your appointment, someone from your dental office will likely give you a call and ask you a list of questions, including your medical history. They’ll also screen you for COVID-19 risks. At your appointment, you’ll be asked to stay in your car until you are called in, and someone will take your temperature.
Patients are to inform their dental office two days after their appointment if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the virus.
Still Waiting? Take Matters Into Your Own Hands (But Only to a Certain Extent)
Young says it’s OK to wait a few extra weeks if you’re overdue an appointment, but it’s important to continue taking care of your teeth at home with brushing and flossing. Follow the instructions your hygienist recommended during your last visit.
Diet makes a difference with your oral health, too. Young suggests eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
“Avoid eating too many acidic foods, which may cause erosion and sensitivity,” she said.
Many dental scalers are being sold for do-it-yourself cleaning, but Young warns that scaling your own teeth may do more harm than good.
“You may cause trauma to the surrounding tissue and remove healthy tooth enamel,” said Young.
If you need to make an appointment for dental health maintenance, you can check a registered dental hygienist’s license by visiting https://search.dca.ca.gov/; for more information about the profession, visit the Dental Hygiene Board of California at https://www.dhbc.ca.gov/.