With the rapidly changing landscape of COVID-19 sweeping our nation, many businesses are either reducing services or shutting their doors in an effort to contain the virus.  

This week alone, I received calls cancelling my eye exam, my daughter’s well child check-up, and a routine vet appointment. While most people understand the necessity in taking these extra precautions, I want to take a moment to touch on another area of healthcare that is also reducing its services and why: your dental care.  

Why is my dentist rescheduling my appointment?   

On March 16, 2020, the American Dental Association (ADA) released its recommendation for dental offices to postpone all non-emergent dental treatment (ada.org). Dental and Oral Health at the University of Vermont Medical Center is temporarily closed starting Monday, March 23 through Friday, April 10. Patients with appointments during this time period will be contacted.  

Examples of appointments that could be rescheduled: 

  • Cleanings 
  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • New patient exams

While some people don’t even like to come to the dentist when there isn’t a global pandemic, others may wonder why their dental office wants to reschedule their dental cleanings or restorative procedures. 

There are two major reasons. One is the strong instruction for social distancing. Dental professionals would need to physically break the 6-foot barrier recommendation. Secondly, and even more importantly, most dental procedures also generate aerosols.  

What are aerosols?  

To put it simply, aerosols are particles that are suspended and linger in the air. Think of when you spray hairspray: the spray extends outward and stays in the air until it dissipates.  

Most dental treatments (fillings, crowns, cleanings, and some extractions) involve spraying water and air into the dental patient’s mouth. This mixes with a patient’s saliva and creates a mist that is generated into the surrounding air, extending beyond the 6-foot barrier.  

Under typical circumstances, there are disinfecting protocols and precautions taken to keep dental professionals and the patients safe; however, with rapid transmission of this novel virus, it is evident that extraordinary precautions must be taken for the time being.  

What is a dental emergency?  

Dental offices hope that by being primarily available for dental emergencies, we will keep people from going to emergency departments. This reduces the risk of unnecessary exposure and leaves hospital staff and beds more readily available for those who truly need emergency services. 

Examples of emergent dental appointments: 

  •  Tooth pain with the presence of facial swelling and/or fever 
  •  Trouble swallowing 
  • Accident or trauma to the teeth/mouth  

If you experience any of these situations, please call your general dentist’s office. There should be someone available to address your emergency. 

What do I do if I’m a UVM Dental and Oral Health Care patient? 

If you are a current Dental and Oral Health patient with a dental emergency, please call to be put in touch with the provider on call. 

Remember, your dental office is just as disappointed as you are about rescheduling these appointments. Rest assured that we are committed to keeping you and our community as healthy and taken care of as possible.  

For information and updates about how the UVM Health Network is fighting the Coronavirus, please visit https://www.uvmhealth.org/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx 

Chelsea Wells is a dental hygienist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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