Dear Patient: It’s safe to go back to your dental office

Dec. 1, 2021
If you’ve been holding off on your dental care out of concern for your safety, Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, says she has good news for you—it’s safe to go back to the dentist. In fact, apparently, it was always safe.

When the world shut down in March of 2020, dental offices were one of the places deemed nonessential. As a dental professional, I, too, was worried about going back into the office. While the facts were quickly coming out and scientists were struggling to keep up, it seemed that dental offices could be dangerous places for an airborne illness, both for patients and clinicians. But on the other hand, we know that poor oral health negatively impacts our immune systems, and we all need our immune systems working at full speed to keep us safe.

We were a little stuck on what to do.

Thankfully, we in dentistry know infection control. We learned this in the ’80s with the AIDS crisis, and we haven’t let down our guard since. We practice “standard precautions,” treating each patient like they could be potentially infectious. Everything that comes in contact with a patient is sterilized, disinfected, or disposed of between every person entering the operatory. We take yearly classes on this, have a massive binder with safety data sheets, and are updating our protocols with the science.

But even that wasn’t enough to set our minds at ease. Innovative products hit the market to help control aerosols, PPE layers were added onto our already protected selves, and more protocols were put into place to keep patients safe. Before we reopened our doors and asked you to remove your mask for treatment, we wanted to be sure we were doing everything within our power to keep you safe.

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My clinical office installed a system in our HVAC that eliminates 99.99% of airborne pathogens and chemical contaminants in a single pass. We had patients wait in their cars, removed the magazines and clutter (sorry, I know that was your favorite time to catch up on celebrity gossip), and wiped down pens between uses—all to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Now, well more than a year later, we aren’t seeing transmission linked back to dental offices as we feared. In fact, infection rates of dental professionals are lower than those of other health professionals. We know what we are doing here to stay safe and to keep you safe.

The science of aerosols has evolved quickly, and we have learned that we aren’t aerosolizing saliva. I remember the first time I walked back into my office—I could just picture the coronavirus floating everywhere. But apparently all the water we squirt into your mouth is actually what is in the air. And on top of that, the suction we use is doing a really good job of sucking it up before it gets to anyone’s respiratory system.

And remember, your oral health affects your whole body health. An unhealthy mouth can leave you more susceptible to a COVID infection. I still think it’s possible we’ll eventually find a link between oral microbiome and severity of COVID cases.

Before the year ends, make a promise to yourself to call your dentist and get back on track. Not only is it safe to go back to the dental office—I’d also say it’s unsafe not to go!

About the Author

Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, CDIPC

Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, CDIPC, is an enthusiastic speaker, innovative consultant, and award-winning author who brings over 25 years of clinical dental hygiene and education to dentistry. Recipient of OSAP’s Emerging Infection Control Leader award and an active participant with the advisory board for RDH magazine, DentistryIQ, and OSAP’s Infection Control in Practice Editorial Review Board and membership committee, Amanda (also known as the Waterline Warrior) strives to make topics in dentistry accurate, accessible, and fun. She can be reached at [email protected].