Regular visits to the dentist may help prevent larger problems down the road.
Many dental clinics in Virginia are now open for non-emergency dental care. Though dentist offices are open, and are following additional safety and screening measures, 48.1% of practices in Virginia responded to a recent survey saying their patient volumes are still lower than normal. That has dentists sounding a warning about the importance of routine preventive dental care.
Delta Dental of Virginia is joining dentists in urging people not to delay dental exams. Routine care is particularly important for children, those who are pregnant and those who have a chronic medical condition, which may put them at higher risk for dental problems. Despite the fact that cavities are preventable, more than 50% of children have experienced tooth decay by the time they reach the third grade.
Routine cleanings and dental exams may also provide early warning signs for other health conditions. More than 120 diseases, including diabetes, can show early symptoms in the mouth.1
COVID-19 impacts on preventive dental care
In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 52% of adult respondents said they or a family member skipped or delayed dental or medical care in June 2020 because of COVID-19. Dental procedures were the most common type of care that was delayed, with 37% of adults saying they put off visits.
In addition to the Kaiser poll an American Dental Association (ADA) national survey found that dental visits are about 60% of what they were before dental offices closed for non-emergency care in mid-March as the pandemic took hold. The Kaiser poll also found that respondents expect to catch up on the care they previously delayed. About 70% said they expect to catch up on missed care.
Is it safe to return to the dentist?
While many Americans plan to return to the dentist soon, more than a quarter of the 1,300 Kaiser Family Foundation poll respondents who skipped or postponed their dental care visits said they do not feel safe returning to dental offices just yet. However, dental offices have traditionally been safe places to visit — and they have put more measures in place to protect patients in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the ADA. Some of those measures include:
- Asking health-related screening questions prior to scheduled appointments. Dental team members may take a patient’s temperature upon arrival and may even ask the same series of screening questions again.
- Scheduling appointments to allow more time to disinfect exam rooms between visits.
- Changing the layout of waiting rooms and other spaces to provide more room for separation between patients or asking patients to wait for their appointment in cars to ensure proper distancing. Commonly-touched items such as toys and magazines may have been removed from waiting areas.
- Providing additional personal protective equipment for dental office employees.
- Requiring all who enter a dental office to wear a face covering.
Regular brushing and flossing between visits remains of vital importance for maintaining a healthy smile. A regular oral health routine at home may help prevent problems between regular dental checkups.
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1Steven L. Bricker, Robert P. Langlais, and Craig S. Miller, Oral Diagnosis, Oral Medicine and Treatment Planning (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1994).