Is it safe to go to the dentist? What doctors are doing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

America’s dental offices are reopening after months of handling only emergencies. All 50 states now allow routine dental care, like teeth cleanings and cavity fillings, but dentistry is considered one of the highest risk professions for the coronavirus.

“If someone asked me in January, ‘Hey, ever think about taking three months off from dentistry?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah, when I retire.’ It was never on my radar that we would have to shut down for this long,” Dr. Peter Shatz, the chairman of the Georgia Dental Association’s COVID-19 Innovation Task Force, told CBS News senior medical correspondent Dr. Tara Narula. 

He’s one of the people trying to help dentists navigate complicated guidance from the state, OSHA and CDC on how to reopen safely.

“We were stood up to help our members better understand the complexities of the coronavirus … from science, research, availability of PPE,” Shatz said.

About 90% of dental offices in the U.S. were open for elective care by the first week of June, but it won’t be business as usual.

“So the traditional waiting for your doctor’s appointment inside the reception area is gone,” Shatz said. “We send a team member out into the parking lot actually to shoot a temperature, make sure that they’re not experiencing any illness.”

What makes dentistry so high risk isn’t just proximity to patients’ mouths. It’s also the nature of the procedures themselves.

Using a high-speed handpiece to do fillings or root canals could aerosolize viral particles if they are present, said Dr. Kirk Norbo, who co-chaired a COVID-19 task force for the American Dental Association.

“We’re hand scaling now the teeth, rather than using the Cavitron or the ultrasonic scalers … to create as safe as an environment as we can,” Norbo said.

The CDC recently updated its guidelines to address routine dental care, stressing the importance of PPE, allowing downtime between patients and prioritizing emergency care.   

But a number of hygienists told CBS News they feel it’s still too soon.

“I’m telling all of my friends and family, do not go to the dentist. It’s probably the worst, most dangerous place you can go right now just because of the nature of the work with the aerosols,” Sara Mercier said.

Shatz and Norbo disagree and worry delaying care could lead to other health issues.

“The biggest risk in dentistry is uncontrolled infections and those could lead to systemic disease, can aggravate underlying heart problems,” Shatz said.

Norbo said he thinks it’s safe to go to the dentist. 

“The biggest thing I’d say is we’re here for you,” Norbo said. “We’re back in business, we feel like we’ve got a safe environment for our patients to return to.” 

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How to Prevent Medicine Abuse in Your Home: Safe Storage & Disposal

It’s up to all of us to take action against medicine abuse. The best place to start is in your own home by storing medications safely and securely, and by talking with your kids about the dangers of medicine abuse.

Mind Your Meds

Two-thirds of teens and young adults who report abuse of prescription medicine are getting it from friends, family and acquaintances. Make sure the young people in your life don’t have access to any medications in your home. Follow these three steps to monitor, secure and properly dispose of unused and expired prescription and over-the-counter medicine in your home.

Step 1: Monitor

How aware are you of the prescription medications currently in your home? Would you know if some of your pills were missing? From this day forward, make sure you can honestly answer yes.

Start by taking note of how many pills are in each of your prescription bottles or pill packets, and keep track of refills. This goes for your own medicine, as well as for your kids and other members of the household. If you find you need to refill your medicine more often than expected, that could indicate a problem.

If your child has been prescribed medicine, be sure you control its use by monitoring dosages and refills. You need to be especially vigilant with medicine known to be addictive and commonly abused such as opioids (prescription pain relievers), benzodiazepines (sedatives and anti-anxiety medications) and stimulants (ADHD medications).

Make sure your friends, parents of your child’s friends, neighbors and relatives — especially grandparents — are also aware of the risks. Encourage them to regularly monitor the medicine in their homes as well.

Step 2: Secure

Approach securing your prescriptions the same way you would other valuables in your home, like jewelry or cash. There’s no shame in helping protect those items, and the same holds true for your medicine.

Remove prescriptions from the medicine cabinet and secure them in a place only you know about. If possible, keep all medicine, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet your teen cannot access.

Step 3: Dispose

Safely disposing of expired or unused medicine is critical to helping protect your kids, family and home. And it decreases the opportunity for visitors in your home, like your kids’ friends, to abuse medicine as well.

The ideal way to do this is by participating in a safe drug disposal program – either a drug take-back day, an ongoing program in your community, a drug deactivation bag, or a drug mail-back program. To find a take-back location or event near you, visit the American Medicine Chest Challenge or the DEA website.

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