What to expect at your next dental visit

(BPT) - Going to the dentist has always been an important part of the overall health care routine. Even now, regular dental appointments are critical to good overall health and it is safe to see your dentist.

You have questions. Will I be safe? Is my dental office following precautions? What should I do if I’m still nervous? These are realistic considerations in the COVID-19 world we now live in.

Dentists are taking all possible measures to ensure the safety of their patients, staff and themselves. It's important patients keep up with their preventive and routine dental care to support their overall health. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) says it is normal to have anxiety and want to delay your routine dental appointment out of concern for coronavirus exposure. Before you decide to do so, contact your dentist and ask about their current operating procedures designed to ensure your safety.

“Dentists have been applying extensive infection control standards in their practices for decades,” says Sheila Samaddar, DDS, a general dentist in Washington, D.C., and member of the AGD. “Infection control tools such as masks, gloves and gowns have long been required in all practices. We followed strict procedures before COVID-19 and since have expanded those measures to ensure all spaces in dental offices are disinfected too.”

Here’s what to know when planning and visiting your dentist during this time.

First, your dentist’s office has taken the recommended measures to make sure your visit is safe and they are ready to treat you.

“We care about our patients and want to ensure their safety,” Lorna Flamer-Caldera, DDS, FAGD, a general dentist in Greenwich Village, New York, and a member of AGD, says. “Your dentist and their practice have put thoughtful procedures in place to make sure you and your family are protected, adhering to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and local agencies. They’re altering check-in procedures, increasing the pieces of personal protective equipment worn by staff, minimizing person-to person contact, and have enhanced cleaning and sterilization.”

New check-in procedures, including screening procedures and social distancing strategies, are designed to protect patients and staff during a dental appointment.

“Your oral and overall health is our priority, and we are asking patients a few screening questions in advance of appointments,” adds Flamer-Caldera. “We are also asking patients to wait outside or in their vehicle prior to the appointment, wear a mask within the office when not being seen or treated by the dentist, or stay home and reschedule if you are feeling unwell the day of your appointment.”

Second, delaying your dental care may result in additional and more costly problems in the future.

“Scheduling that overdue dental appointment is more important than ever now, as dental offices are working to manage patients who put off treatment during COVID-19,” says Dr. Samaddar. “Patients should visit the dentist regularly to ensure that dental problems are caught early. In addition to teeth cleaning, we screen patients for oral cancer and other conditions. This is an important part of taking care of your overall health.

“You may end up having to undergo and pay more for procedures that professional intervention could have prevented early on,” says Dr. Samaddar. “Early detection and routine professional care typically improve overall oral wellness outcomes.”

Third, feelings of anxiety caused by the pandemic may be difficult for patients, compounding fears and making it difficult for some to schedule an appointment. Talk to your dentist about your concerns.

“We are familiar with dental anxiety and helping patients work through their fears,” says Flamer-Caldera. “Give your dentist a call to address your concerns, as many of your needs can be resolved simply by talking about them. Your dental team will inform you of what to expect and answer your questions to ensure your comfort during an appointment.”

Of course, it’s important to keep up with at-home oral hygiene as well, such as brushing for two minutes twice daily, flossing, and avoiding sugary foods and liquids.

For more information on where to find guidance around visiting the dentist right now, visit www.agd.org/seeyourdentist.

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