Because local dentists have closed their offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that people take their dental hygiene into their own hands.
“Exemplary oral home care — with excellent brushing, daily flossing, using anti-cavity mouth rinse — can be really helpful for most patients,” Dr. Ryan Coffield, an Iola dentist, said. “Of course, we’d like to see that happening all the time, but it’s even more important now.”
Dentists are restricted from performing routine maintenance, cleanings and filling cavities because of the dangers of spreading the coronavirus.
Dental procedures require patients and providers to get “up close and personal,” which increases the risk of spreading germs.
“Even simple fillings can generate an aerosol,” Dr. David Andersen explained of the technique that includes spraying water into a patient’s mouth. “Creating an aerosol is the last thing anyone needs.”
Andersen is a dentist in the Iola office of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
State and national health agencies and dental associations have prohibited all but a handful of procedures.
Essentially the only procedures allowed are those that address infection, severe pain and trauma.
The dentists who spoke with The Register said most clients are very understanding about the restrictions, but there is some confusion as to what qualifies as an urgent or emergency dental procedure.
Andersen recalled a recent telephone conversation with a man who had broken a front tooth and was very concerned.
The new guidelines prohibit Andersen from helping the man, who initially was very frustrated. But after Andersen explained the situation, the call ended amiably.
“Our willingness to help is not the issue,” Andersen said. “We’re all trying to stop the spread of this virus.”
That’s why it’s more important than ever to practice good oral hygiene, Coffield said.
“I am worried about neglect. The longer you delay even routine treatment, the more decay develops,” Coffield said.
And what may not be an emergency today could become one tomorrow, Andersen added.
“It’s a fine edged sword. As time progresses, these things can evolve into a more emergent category,” he said. “A lot of things that are being deferred have probably already been deferred too long.”
DR. SEAN McReynolds, a Humboldt dentist, is keeping his office closed except in emergencies. All telephone calls are being routed to his cell phone, so he is able to answer questions and reschedule appointments. Though his staff has been furloughed, they are on-call for emergency procedures.
Coffield someone is in his office on a limited basis to take calls, reschedule or set emergency appointments. Like McReynolds, he will call in staff for essential procedures.
Routine maintenance, fillings, cleanings and general cosmetic work account for 80-90% of business, Coffield said.
The shutdown, “dramatically changes our practice model,” Coffield said.
For those who do need to be seen, the dentists will see patients individually to limit contact with staff or others. Like hospitals and healthcare clinics, the dentists will screen patients, asking questions about recent travel, taking their temperature and assessing physical symptoms.
They’re also taking precautions by stringently disinfecting waiting rooms and office areas.
Because Andersen’s office is part of a physician health clinic, he and his staff can help in other ways if they aren’t needed, like answering phone calls.
“We’re at a bare-bones shift right now,” Andersen said.
THE DENTISTS wouldn’t speculate what the future might hold.
Much is unknown about the timeline, both for the severity of the outbreak and for the economic recovery afterward.
They said they’re focused on the immediate future, trying to keep their patients and staff safe and preparing for a return to sort of normal.
“My main focus right now is setting my practice up to be ready to go when we get back to normal operations,” McReynolds said. “I think the response from the community, both in Humboldt and Allen County, has been better than adequate. We’ve done everything we can to keep the effect on our community to a minimum. Hopefully being ahead of the curve will pay off for us later.”
If you have questions about a dental problem, call a local provider for guidance.