Thank you to James Island resident, Tony Mennito, for answering these questions about dentistry during COVID. Tony is Associate professor at MUSC College of Dental Medicine and private practice dentist at Expertise Dental (776 St. Andrews Blvd, West Ashley, 843-769-4600).
1. Is it safe to go to the dentist during this time?
Generally speaking, yes. Different practices are taking different precautions but I will tell you what most, including my own, are doing. In truth, even before COVID we took infection control very seriously and now we, as a profession, have stepped it up even more.
Having you wait in your car until we are ready to see you. This avoids interactions with other patients in the waiting room or at the front desk.
Everyone is asked to wear a mask to enter and exit the building (dentists and staff included) and we are taking temperatures and O2 saturation levels to ensure that you (or we) are not ill.
Treatment rooms have always been thoroughly cleaned between patients but now we are using even stronger cleaners as well as utilizing air purification systems to clean the air between patients.
Several other measures to limit aerosol production, ensure the safety of the dentist and staff and thoroughly clean the office at the end of day.
2. What should I ask my dentist before I visit?
Before your appointment it might be a good idea to call your dentist and see what they've changed in response to COVID. You may notice that a dental cleaning, for instance, may be a little different due to our desire to limit aerosol production for your safety as well as our own.
3. Is it better to get a cleaning now or wait 6 months or so?
Oral health is an important part of your systemic health. The reality is a trip to the dentist taking the above precautions is likely safer than a trip to the grocery store or your favorite restaurant. There is no reason to wait.
4. What if my dentist takes his mask off?
This is unlikely as we are use to wearing masks and know that they are our best protection. However, we are human too and old habits, such as talking to a patient after a procedure without a mask might creep in. After the procedure, we have the patients put their mask back on leave the building. So if your dentist takes their mask off for any reason, you should still have yours on.