Dentists push back after new warning from WHO to delay routine dental checkups in areas where COVID is spreading

Dentists say they're well-equipped to handle disease control.

August 13, 2020, 9:02 AM

Dentists are fighting tooth and nail to get back to business amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization released its new recommendation that people should put off "routine" check-ups in areas where the virus is spreading until more is known about coronavirus transmission risk during dental procedures.

The American Dental Association fired back and said that it "strongly disagrees" with the guidance and argued that with the appropriate personal protective equipment, patients and professionals can safely operate.

PHOTO: Dentists preform an oral procedure as Ohio implements phase one of reopening dentists, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Columbus, May 1, 2020.
Dentists preform an oral procedure as Ohio implements phase one of reopening dentists, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Columbus, May 1, 2020.
Megan Jelinger/Reuters, FILE

The president of the California Dentist Association, Dr. Richard Nagy, told ABC News that doctors in their field of practice are well-practiced in disease control.

"Dentists have been experts in infection control for over 20 years due to the HIV AIDS scare," Dr. Nagy said. "So we're used to preparing our offices for infection disease control."

The CDC, meanwhile, says dentists can operate in communities where the virus is spreading, but recommends additional protective equipment be worn by staff, including eye wear protection in addition to masks.

While there have been no reported clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks directly traced to dental offices, there were two separate Colorado Springs dental offices that recently reported staff members who tested positive for the virus.

Some dental workers have been on edge amid the ongoing spread of coronavirus.

"The problem with dentistry right now is nobody knows the risks," dental hygienist Sara Mercier told ABC News. "Everything we do, including just having a patient open their mouth and breathing, creates aerosols. And unlike other medicine, we cannot socially distance from a patient."

She continued, "nobody can look a patient in the eye and say, you are safe here and you're not in harm's way because the science is showing us that they probably are."

But Dr. Nagy said that most dental offices across the U.S. have taken the pandemic seriously and revamped offices, including adding ventilation, and strengthening sanitation and safety protocols.

"We really increased our knowledge of airborne base pathogens and prepare their offices in terms of enhanced PPE enhanced training for our staff," he explained.

What patients should expect ahead of going back into the dental chair

Dr. Simone Wildes, a Massachusetts-based infectious disease expert, told ABC News how to safely consider going to the dentist.

"Do a temperature check before you go in," she recommended.

"The waiting room is going to be pretty much empty of all the magazines and toys, they are no longer going to be in there," Wildes added of the minimal surface touch points. "They are going to be dressed entirely different -- covered in PPE."

Finally, she recommended looking for signs of sanitation measures.

"Make sure you're looking around to see whether or not the staff is cleaning up after each patient," Wildes said.

ABC News' Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

Related Topics