Plexiglass, more mouthwash and a lot of questions. What to expect when you go back to the dentist

Rose Blan

The idea of having someone poke around your mouth might be panic-inducing when we now know that COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, but dental offices in Ontario have been allowed to see patients again since June 1. I myself went to see my dentist over the weekend after […]

The idea of having someone poke around your mouth might be panic-inducing when we now know that COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, but dental offices in Ontario have been allowed to see patients again since June 1.

I myself went to see my dentist over the weekend after my appointment to get a filling was delayed for three months (I also had to fix an exposed nerve at the back of my mouth that made flossing and eating not fun at all). As someone who still isn’t ready to dine at a patio, let along dine inside a restaurant whenever Toronto moves into Phase 3, I actually felt quite safe the whole time I was there — mouth agape and all.

Dentists’ guidelines for infection control were updated as recently as three years ago, “so we already had strict protocols in place,” says Dr. Lesli Hapak, president of the Ontario Dental Association and a Windsor-based periodontist. She adds: “Throughout the pandemic, we enhanced these protocols.”

She and the ODA have been trying to get the word out to the public on what returning patients can expect at the dental office (there’s a COVID-19 question and answer page on the ODA site for patients).

Hapak explains some of the protocols now in place (my dentist in Markham followed the same steps she outlined). They include a pre-screen call asking whether the patient has travelled recently or are experiencing flu-like symptoms; staggered appointments to limit the number of patients gathered in the reception area; fewer patients daily to allow more time for cleaning (Hapak says she’s been going through a backlog of patients whose appointments were postponed since March); no more magazines or toys in the waiting area; masks are mandatory upon entering the office; Plexiglas barriers at the reception; and, if the waiting room is small, patients are told to wait outside or in their cars until their appointment. The receptionist at my dentist also took my temperature upon entering.

My procedures, plus a regular cleaning, took about an hour altogether which isn’t that different from before. The only thing that was different was that I had to rinse my mouth with mouthwash at the beginning.

Hapak says that a pre-procedural rinse helps minimize bacteria in the mouth. Many dentists are now using a hydrogen peroxide-based rinse, which is thought to also help with viruses.

Since I couldn’t wear a mask in the dental chair, my dentist and her assistants wore a disposable mask over a respirator mask, a disposable gown, as well as a plastic shield to protect their eyes. Hapak says the biggest challenge for dentists right now is procuring enough Personal Protective Equipment, as much of it is being prioritized towards going to people working in hospitals, meat processing plants and long-term-care facilities.

Some practices in the province have been charging patients with a PPE fee to help pay for the equipment. The ODA’s site says the fees can range from $8 to $18, and it’s up to the individual clinics to decide whether to charge anything (mine didn’t).

I definitely felt safe and everyone around me when my mask was off was wearing much more PPE than anyone else I’ve come across during my limited outings since March. Still, Hapak says it’s up to the patients to decide if they’re ready to come back.

“Many of the patients that are coming in are happy to get back in. They’ve made comments that they’ve been waiting to get their teeth cleaned for several months and can feel the buildup. But some of my patients are immunocompromised and are a bit apprehensive about going anywhere, including the supermarket, so you have to appreciate that. You inform them but they have to feel comfortable about coming in.”

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Karon Liu
Karon Liu is a Toronto-based culture reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu

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