During these unprecedented times with COVID-19, we are all hesitant to leave our homes. However, there are 6 dental emergencies for which you may have to leave your home and go see a dentist after all. The following information is written for Australian citizens and may vary from country to country. Please keep in mind that new information about COVID-19 is being released every single day and this article may be out of date at the time of reading.
Currently, Australia is in Level 3 restriction of dental services to reduce transmission risks for COVID-19. COVID-19 is a highly contagious coronavirus that causes respiratory tract infections.
How can COVID-19 spread in a dental clinic?
The only treatments that you can currently receive are the ones that do not generate aerosols. “Aerosols” are small droplets floating in the air that can be generated during dental treatment. These droplets contain air and water from the dental handpieces, combined with blood and saliva from the patient. Furthermore, aerosols can serve as a potential hazard for the spread of bacteria, viruses (COVID-19), fungi, and protozoan. Moreover, aerosols can help the spread of COVID-19 when they are inhaled and when you touch surfaces that have droplets from an infected person and then you touch your face.
Direct contact with an infected person can also spread the virus. Dentists use protective equipment such as face masks and safety glasses to try and minimize the spread of infectious disease. However, protective equipment is not always sufficient to fully protect a person. Furthermore, all treatments are being performed under “rubber dam” which is a thin sheet of rubber that is attached to a patient’s tooth and is stretched to cover the patient’s mouth. Rubber dam helps to isolate the tooth from the patient’s saliva thus, keeping the working area clean while minimizing the risk of transmission of diseases.
Here is the list of the 6 dental emergencies that you should not leave untreated even during COVID-19.
- Severe Toothache
- Swelling/Acute Infection
- If you are suspicious of abnormally looking tissue in the mouth
- If you are medically compromised and need treatment
1. Severe Toothache
Are you struggling with severe tooth pain that is preventing you from sleeping at night? Have you tried using painkillers and you think they are not helping you much? In that case, you should book an appointment with a dentist even during COVID-19. Common cause of tooth pain is decay. If decay has spread to the core of the tooth (pulp) then most likely you will need a root canal treatment or an extraction of the tooth.
2. Swelling/Acute Infection
Are you having dental pain, accompanied by fever and facial swelling or swelling inside the mouth? If yes, then you should see a dentist as soon as possible even during COVID-19 pandemic. Common cause of swelling/acute infection is decay that has spread from the core of the tooth (pulp) to the root and has produced a sac full of pus (abscess). Treatment options may include pus drainage, antibiotics, root canal treatment or tooth extraction.
As an example, have you accidentally knocked out one of your front teeth? If yes, then you should seek help from the dentist as soon as possible. Getting to your dentist within an hour of this unfortunate event is ideal if you want to save the tooth. Remember the more time passes, the lower are the chances of saving the tooth. When you pick up the tooth, make sure to hold it by the crown and not by the root. Do not wipe the tooth with anything. You can bring the tooth inside a container with milk or covered with your saliva. Most importantly, do NOT let the tooth to dry out. If the incident involved loss of consciousness, you will need to seek medical advice asap. Also, if the incident happened in an outdoor area, make sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date.
Are you experiencing excessive bleeding or bleeding that does not stop after for example pulling a tooth out, then you should book an appointment with your dentist. Bleeding may happen for a variety of reasons and may take a long time to stop if for example you are taking blood-thinning medication such as aspirin or warfarin. Low oozing for 12-24h after a tooth is pulled out is normal, however, anything longer than that would require attention from a dentist.
5. If you see or feel an abnormally looking tissue in the mouth
Have you noticed an ulcer or have you felt a mass in your mouth that was not there before? If yes, then you should visit a dentist for further examination and testing. An ulcer may be self-limiting, however, if it persists for more than two weeks then it needs to be examined by a dentist as it may require treatment or further investigations depending on the characteristics of the ulcer. If there is a persistent ulcer or a mass in the mouth then before a definitive diagnosis is achieved, a section of the tissues from the affected area (biopsy) will most likely be sent for microscopic examination in a pathology lab.
6. If you are medically compromised and need treatment
As an example, if you were diagnosed with cancer, your medical practitioner may refer you to a dentist to address all your dental concerns before proceeding with radiation therapy to the head and neck region. One of the main reasons for this is because pulling teeth out is not recommended after radiation therapy due to poor tissue healing. Other examples include immunocompromised patients that are referred by their medical practitioners as dental infections could pose a risk on their overall health.
We have finished discussing the 6 dental emergencies for which you must see you dentist during COVID-19, now let’s look at the list of dental issues that are not considered an emergency during COVID-19.
Below is a list of 8 dental related issues that your dentist will most likely not address during COVID-19 pandemic:
- Routine recall examinations
- Extraction of teeth without symptoms and without swelling
- Broken or chipped teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Denture concerns
- Crown and bridge concerns
- Dental cleaning appointments
- Jaw clicking
If you need to have dental treatment performed during COVID-19 pandemic, please follow the following health suggestions:
- Maintain 1.5m social distancing
- Upon arrival at the dental reception, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer for 20 seconds
- Wash your hands with soap and water before sitting down on the dental chair
- Dentist will most likely give you an antimicrobial mouth rinse before they start the treatment
- Unless you need moral support or assistance during travel, it is recommended that you do not have any accompanying persons with you while attending your emergency dental appointment
If you answer “YES” to any of the following questions, then you should be self-isolating and any emergency or urgent dental treatment should be done in a hospital setting.
- Have you been overseas in the last 14 days
- Have you been in contact with a suspected or a confirmed case of COVID-19
- Do you have a fever (above 38°C) or flu-like signs and symptoms
Remember prevention is always better than needing invasive dental treatment especially during these challenging times. So I wish you to stay healthy and safe at home.
Thank you for reading my blog on 6 dental emergencies for which you must see a dentist during COVID-19. If you would like to learn more about dentistry, feel free to check out my other blog posts!