Aging for Amateurs: During COVID-19, it’s still important to visit the dentist | Columnists

Four weeks ago, I wrote a column on places you won’t see me during the COVID-19 pandemic. One place that was conspicuously absent was the dentist. I hadn’t done enough research to comment on the issue of whether to seek dental care in this difficult time, but I believe I have now.

After reviewing the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites and talking with several local dentists, including my own family dentist, Dr. Keith Kirkland, I’m comfortable recommending regular visits for preventive care (cleaning and evaluation for tooth and gum problems) every six months, as usual.

Of course, emergency care for dental trauma or severe pain is also recommended when needed. Talk to your dentist if you have particular concerns with visiting.

You will likely find your dentist’s office looking a little different to allow for social distancing in the waiting room and intake procedures will look different, too.

You will be expected to wear a mask to your visit. Your temperature should be taken and questions will be asked regarding exposure to anyone with known COVID-19 or any COVID symptoms of your own.

You may even be asked these questions over the phone when you schedule an appointment. Your dentist and dental hygienists are going to be exposed to your breathing because we haven’t figured out how to clean or even look at or work on teeth through a mask! They likely will be wearing full protective gear, gloves and a mask, as usual, but also a face shield or glasses and a gown for their protection from you since, as you know, there are asymptomatic carriers of COVID.

Most offices will not allow anyone to accompany the patient to the treatment room (except for a parent or guardian of a small child, or other special circumstances) in order to have as few people in the office at a time as possible.

The process of cleaning your teeth will likely be different. For the last 10 or so years, we have had very effective ultrasonic machines to help get rid of the plaque that builds up between professional cleanings (even with twice-a-day brushing and flossing).

You probably remember how much spray those machines produce. That spray can potentially spread the virus in particles that may hang in the air and eventually contaminate surfaces. So, most offices have stopped using the ultrasonic machine and returned to using just the hand tools the hygienist normally uses to get rid of the last little bit of plaque. You may wish to ask if your dentist’s office is still using the ultrasonic machines when you call to make an appointment. Most other dental treatments will be pretty much the same.

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Your dentist and the rest of the staff will be checking their own temperatures and screening themselves for COVID-19 symptoms to keep your risk of being exposed in the office to a minimum. You will see me at the dentist wearing my mask until the treatment starts, while all of us do all we can (I sincerely hope) to control the pandemic.

On another issue that we raised briefly in a recent column: using disinfectants and other cleaning products in potentially harmful ways.

The CDC recently published an online study which found that 39 percent of U.S. adults reported using potentially harmful products as they tried to prevent COVID-19 infections. A spike in calls to poison control centers in the United States in early 2020 prompted the CDC to commission the study in a nationally representative sample of 500-plus adults.

Sixty percent said they had cleaned or disinfected their home more frequently to prevent COVID-19. But many did so in unsafe ways. Nineteen percent used bleach on food such as fruits and vegetables and 18 percent used household cleaning products on their skin. Ten percent misted their body with cleaning or disinfectant sprays and 6 percent reported inhaling vapors from cleaning products while 4 percent reported gargling with diluted bleach, soapy water or other cleaning or disinfecting solutions.

The authors of the research conclude: “These practices pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided.”

In support of their conclusion, one in four respondents in the study reported their use of cleaning products or disinfectants caused adverse effects such as irritation of the nose, skin or eyes; dizziness; lightheadedness; headache; nausea or breathing problems.

So, read the label of whatever product you are using and follow the directions, they are there for a reason, no matter who says otherwise!

Stay safe, keep your distance, wear a mask when you’re out and wash your hands often.

Bert Keller and Bill Simpson write the occasional column, “Aging for Amateurs.” Simpson, a retired physician, wrote this installment. Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome at [email protected]

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