The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Americans’ access to oral health care, leading many adults to put routine dental treatment on hold. Our recent report Dental Benefits 2020: Maintaining oral health during COVID-19 and beyond found that one in five adults feel their oral health care has suffered during the pandemic.1 And fewer adults rated their oral health care as “excellent/good” in May than in January.
As dental offices begin to reopen for non-emergency services, Americans may expect they’ll be ready to visit their dentists in-person. About eight in 10 US adults report that they are comfortable returning to the dentist after Labor Day.
Dental offices — like all health care sectors — have begun implementing newer, more focused safety guidelines for patients and staff as they resume routine treatment of patients with elective and prophylactic procedures. As a result, a return to the dentist will look different. Some of the things that you may notice upon returning to your dental provider include:
- Your dentist’s office will likely screen you for COVID-19 before your appointment. This will usually happen via telephone or a telehealth modality and consist of answering a short series of questions. It is also very likely that your temperature will be taken upon entering the office.
- You may be asked to wait outside in your car until you are ready to be seen. This is due to waiting room social-distancing limitations. You may also be asked to come to your appointment alone unless you are a caregiver or parent for the patient.
- You will be asked to wear a mask while in the office. Even if you are the only patient in the office, you should still bring one with you.
- Expect no reading materials and limited seating in the waiting room. Due to more stringent infection control requirements, the offices will remove any unnecessary surfaces prone to contamination. You may also see transparent dividers strategically located throughout the office.
- You may be asked to use a hand sanitizer before entering your treatment room. You may also be instructed to use a preoperative mouth swab or viricidal oral rinse, such as hydrogen peroxide or povidone-iodine before treatment begins.
- Expect your dental appointment to take longer than usual. Staff will wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE), along with other additional measures to ensure the safety of patients and dental staff. This means more time will be needed to prepare your room.
- Dental staff will likely no longer move from room to room. To help reduce the possibility of transmission, the dental treatment team may focus on one patient at a time.
The dental office has always been a place where staff work hard to stop the potential spread of infection. The COVID-19 pandemic only underscores the need to use more strict and focused infection control guidelines. Download our latest report to learn more about how COVID-19 has shaped the behaviors and attitudes around oral health care.