The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we access health care, and dental care is no exception.
Dentists are no longer allowed to provide a raft of care, such as regular check-ups and tooth whitening, to minimise the spread of COVID-19. However, if you’re in a lot of pain, your dentist will be able to treat you.
Here’s how the coronavirus is changing the way we look after our teeth.
How often should I get my teeth cleaned?
Why are these restrictions in place?
When dentists work on your teeth, they can produce aerosols – droplets or sprays of saliva or blood – in the air.
This happens routinely when your dentist uses a drill or when scaling and polishing, for instance.
And dentists are used to following stringent infection control precautions under normal circumstances to lower the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, whether they are respiratory diseases or blood-borne.
These precautions help keep both patients and dentists safe because it assumes all patients may have an infection, despite the reality that most won’t.
But with the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increased risk of aerosols carrying the virus either directly infecting dental staff, or landing on surfaces, which staff or the next patient can touch.
This transmission may be possible even if you feel perfectly well, as not everyone with the virus has symptoms.
Who’s making these recommendations?
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the key decision-making committee for health emergencies – has recently recommended dentists only provide treatments that do not generate aerosols, or where generating aerosols is limited. And all routine examinations and treatments should be postponed.
This is based on level three restrictions, according to guidance from the Australian Dental Association.
Recommendations of what is and isn’t allowed may change over time.
What does it mean for me? Can I still get a filling?
What’s not allowed?
Non-essential dental care is now postponed. This includes routine check-ups and treatment where there is no pain, bleeding or swelling. So treatments such as whitening and most fillings will have to wait.
Other conditions or treatments that will need to be postponed include:
tooth extractions (without accompanied pain or swelling)
broken or chipped teeth
bleeding or sore gums
halitosis (bad breath)
loose teeth (that aren’t a choking hazard)
concerns about dentures
crowns and bridges
clicking/grating jaw joint
scale and polish
What is allowed?
Some patients will need urgent care for acute problems requiring treatments that produce aerosols. So such procedures have a risk of spreading COVID-19.
Permitted treatments are limited to:
tooth extractions or root canal treatment when someone is in acute pain caused by damage to, or death of the nerve in the tooth
where upper front teeth are significantly damaged, for example, in an accident (this is an instance where a filling could be provided)
management of ulcers or other problems with the lining of the gums and mouth
providing care for patients with complex medical conditions and where not treating may lead