If you’ve wondered whether it’s safe yet to go back to the dentist, you’re not alone. In the early days of the pandemic, nearly all dental practices closed their doors except in cases of emergency. As of mid-July 2020, 42% of dental offices have reopened to provide services, according to a member survey conducted by the American Dental Association.
This is because we know much more about the virus than at the start of the pandemic, especially the measures that are most important to prevent infection. CDC dental guidelines provide a clear path forward that includes the use of dental PPE, prescreening, hygiene practices, and even UV radiation in certain areas.
Thanks to appropriate dental PPE and evidence-based protocols, millions of patients have safely visited their dentists over the last few months to receive dental care. At the forefront of dental research and practice, Penn Dental Medicine has led the field in pursuing the most stringent safety measures recommended by health authorities.
Oral health is integral to overall health because of its role in treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.
When checkups are delayed and dental pain is ignored, a small cavity can turn into a root canal or tooth extraction. That increases the amount of treatment time required, cost of services, and even the level of pain experienced. In rare cases, ignoring the pain of tooth infection can even be fatal if it reaches the bloodstream.
Furthermore, if you know you have a history of certain dental conditions, you’ll want to keep receiving necessary treatments on a regular basis. If you were treated for a cavity or gum disease in the past, regular checkups are especially necessary. These checkups will allow the dentist to halt the progression of any oral diseases before they can become more serious.
The chain of infection refers to the series of events that make it possible for a pathogen to cause infection in a person.
The chain begins with a pathogen (such as the COVID-19 virus) finding an “exit portal” from the infected individual to travel in space. As it travels, it looks for an “entry portal” in a new host. The most effective way to stop pathogens from spreading is to interrupt the chain by understanding the portals of entry and exit and implementing preventative measures.
Penn Dental Medicine utilizes all of the following measures to keep the virus from having the opportunity to spread:
We ask questions upon each patient’s arrival to screen out anyone who could have had possible exposure to COVID-19. We also take temperatures since a fever is one of the most common symptoms of the coronavirus. While it may seem simple, these measures have been shown again and again to be an effective means of lowering public health risk. Since this isn’t something you have to do to enter a grocery store, for example, it’s arguable that you’re less likely to come into contact with an infected individual at the dentist.
2. Hand hygiene
Again, while it may seem simple, handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer drastically decreases transmission by eliminating the pathogen at the point of transmission. Our oral professionals properly disinfect their hands before an examination, before starting procedures, after touching a patient, and after touching any equipment.
3. Disinfecting spaces
While the scientific consensus is that the virus does not spread primarily through surfaces, infection through contact with a contaminated surface is still possible. At PDM, we regularly disinfect common spaces and high-contact surfaces such as doorknobs, chairs, and the reception desk. We also wipe down all equipment between patients to maintain a virus-free environment.
4. Dental PPE
The term PPE means “personal protective equipment,” which refers to protective clothing like face shields, masks, eyewear, etc., designed to protect the wearer from infection. Dental PPE acts as a barrier between infectious particles and your nose, eyes, and mouth. All the dental professionals and student dentists at Penn Dental Medicine utilize the highly effective N95 masks, which create a shield between dentists and their patients. Also, every person who enters our offices must be wearing a mask at all times until they receive treatment in the dentist’s chair.
5. UV radiation
Ultraviolet light technology has been used in large health care facilities with great success. Rigorous testing has shown its ability to kill bugs and viruses that are airborne, an important factor for COVID-19 transmission. Because of this, we also sweep certain areas of our offices with UV light sanitizer, which acts by penetrating the thin wall of the virus and disrupting its DNA. This destroys it and/or makes it unable to reproduce, keeping staff and patients safe from potential airborne transmission.
All these measures are vital components of Penn’s approach to ensuring the safety of our patients and staff while at our offices. When it comes to public health and safety, each additional protocol helps to disrupt the chain of transmission. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, we are proud to be implementing the most stringent measures recommended by health authorities. With pre-screening, dental PPE, sanitation, and the use of UV technology, our offices are some of the cleanest, safest indoor spaces you’ll find locally.
To schedule your appointment or learn how to become a patient, please call 215-898-8965.