NEW YORK - You should delay your routine dental cleaning until the coronavirus pandemic eases, according to new guidance from the World Health Organization. Dentists, hygienists, and other oral care providers have a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and passing it to patients because "they are in close contact with their patients' mouths, use spray-generating equipment that produces airborne particles, [and] are exposed to saliva, blood and body fluids," WHO said.
"WHO advises that routine non-essential oral health care—such as check-ups, dental cleanings, and preventive care—be delayed until there has been sufficient reduction in COVID-19 transmission rates," the U.N. agency said.
However, many dentists in the United States are challenging that advice.
Almost three-quarters of countries surveyed said that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted dental services—higher than for any other type of essential service, according to WHO.
Oral health is extremely important so WHO is urging dental providers to give advice on maintaining good oral hygiene to their patients via remote consultation or social media.
But if you're in pain or have another urgent dental issue, you should still seek care. To minimize the risk of viral transmission, your dentist should first screen you and evaluate your problem by a telephone or video call.
"Urgent or emergency oral health care interventions that are vital for preserving a person's oral functioning, managing severe pain or securing quality of life should be provided, to avoid unnecessary visits to hospital emergency services," WHO said.
Also, WHO urges dental practices to have "strict infection prevention and control measures" in place to mitigate the risk. That includes physical distancing; wearing medical masks or respirators, eye protection, and a disposable gown; frequent hand washings; and cleaning disinfecting equipment and other surfaces.
But not long after the WHO issued its guidance, a network of dentists in the United States pushed back. North American Dental Group said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees" with the recommendation to delay dental treatments.
"Routine care is often preventive care and it is extremely important in helping to avoid oral infections and diseases, which could impact a person's quality of life," Dr. Andrew Matta, a practicing dentist and a co-founder of North American Dental Group, said in a statement. "This pandemic has proven that it is time for dentistry to be recognized as a form of essential health care."
Matta said that members of the North American Dental Group have put in place a number of measures to keep staff and patients as safe as possible amid the pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its own guidelines for dental providers earlier this month.
"As dental healthcare facilities begin to restart elective procedures in accordance with guidance from local and state officials, there are precautions that should remain in place as a part of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic," CDC said in a statement on Aug. 4. "Dental settings should balance the need to provide necessary services while minimizing risk to patients and dental healthcare personnel."
As with the WHO guidelines, CDC also urges dental providers to screen patients remotely before any in-office treatments and procedures. If patients do need to come into the office, they should wear a face mask before and after the treatment or procedure.