HAVE YOU seen the signs thanking heroes emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic? I haven’t seen one listing dental professionals, but I think they should be included. Outside of every dental office a sign should appear that says, “Heroes Work Here!”

When you consider that the disease is spread through small droplets from the nose and mouth, and where and how dentists and dental auxiliary staff work, the risk factors of dental health care professionals approach those of other medical care professionals-or exceed them.

On March 16, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommended that dental offices close to all but urgent and emergency dental care. After several weeks of being unavailable for all elective procedures, most dentists are back to business, following the recommendations of the ADA, CDC and their state departments of health and safety to ensure the safety of their patients and staff.

During the period when dental offices were closed, teledentistry helped patients with a dental emergency access the expertise of their dentist via HIPAA-compliant live video conferences to triage the problems and discuss next steps. Teledentistry visits can often alleviate patient anxiety and eliminate a trip to the emergency room. Many dental insurance companies appreciate the role played by teledentistry and reimburse for teledentistry procedures, and many dentists have added teledentistry as a service option.

Dr. Bryan Hoertdoerfer, of Hoertdoerfer Dentistry in Manchester, says, “We have incorporated teledentistry as an option within our business. Teledentistry is here to stay.”

Dental offices are inherently health- and safety-conscious; even so, if you’ve visited your dentist’s office since they’ve reopened, you’ve seen several changes because of the pandemic. Because dental offices have been closed, you might have to wait a bit longer for an appointment, so schedule one soon. If you haven’t visited since they’ve reopened, here are some changes you can expect.

You may be screened for COVID-19 symptoms during your appointment call, and you may be asked similar questions the day of your dental visit. Some dental offices may want you to answer those questions outside of the office, or as soon as you walk in. Your temperature may be taken. You will most likely be asked to wear a mask, which you can remove in the dental chair. You may be asked to wait in your car and call when you arrive rather than waiting in the waiting room; in a waiting room you may see fewer chairs and no toys or magazines. Visitors are unlikely to be welcomed, with the possible exception of one parent with a young child.

You may be asked to use hand sanitizer. You may hear the hum of air purifiers. You may see office areas shielded, and dentists and dental auxiliary staff (dental hygienists and assistants) wearing more personal protective equipment than usual.

Dental office safety is a joint responsibility, so please reschedule your appointment if you develop symptoms, test positively for COVID-19, or are exposed to someone with COVID-19 to protect the dental health professionals who are protecting you.

Northeast Delta Dental is pleased to have been able to support our participating dentists with PPE and financial relief while dental offices were closed, and now as they reopen.

Tom Raffio is president and CEO Northeast Delta Dental.

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