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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

What Closure Of Dental Clinics For Coronavirus Means To Patients

Dentist and patient discussion about planned teeth treatment in dental clinic office
Dentists are no longer taking elective procedures as coronavirus spreads. Emergency and urgent cases will be seen.

As COVID-19 continued to spread, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order prohibiting any unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency medical procedures in Florida.

But dentists, like other medical professionals, are still able to see patients in critical condition at this time.

“We have our part to do too because we want to try to keep patients who might be in an emergency situation from going to the emergency room to see dental care and intermingling with patients that are going to the emergency room for treatment of symptoms of COVID-19,” said Dr. Rudy Liddell, President of  the Florida Dental Association.

Before the order was placed by DeSantis, the American Dental Association had already recommended postponing elective procedures and focusing only on emergency cases.

To further educate dentists, the association hosted a webinar featuring control protocols and procedures that could be followed during the COVID-19 outbreak, along with a page dedicated to resources regarding the virus.

Though there is no exact definition of what a dental emergency is, the American Dental Association has created a guide to give some clarifications. Such emergent or urgent cases include dental or facial trauma, tooth fractures, uncontrolled bleeding, dental pain or swelling that could be caused by or led to infection, and conditions that could block the patients’ airways.

For his part, Liddell considers emergency procedures to be based on the severity the condition could have on the patient. For example, if someone has a cavity that could become infected before the order ends, then they could come into the office. If a tooth chips and is sharp enough to harm tissue, the patient can visit.

Liddell suggests all the patients ask themselves a question before they go to a clinic: is your problem something that you think you can endure for a period of 45 days?

“If the answer to that question is yes, I can, I can tolerate this, then they won't be seen,” said Liddell. “But if they say no, this thing is killing me, my tongue is swollen, I can't eat, that is something that we would see.”

And while common procedures like dental cleanings and check-ups aren't treated as emergencies, there can still be exception. Take for example, said Liddell, somone whose cardiologist needs to make sure a patient's mouth is disease-free before prescribing them a medicine.

“So that's somebody that by getting their teeth cleaned, it affects their overall health,” he said.

The best thing for patients to do is contact their dentist and ask whether their situation falls under an emergency.

Some patients have concerns about possible exposure to coronavirus while going to a dentist. But Liddell says since the AIDS epidemic, the practice of dentistry has greatly improved its sanitation, so they should be prepared for the virus.

“All our rooms are completely disinfected with disinfectants that are approved to kill tuberculosis viruses,” said Liddell. “All of our instruments are either disposable or heat sterilizable and all of our staff wear personal protective equipment with every patient. Because of the infection control procedures that we have in place in our dental offices, the dental office will remain a safe place to receive treatment.”

For updates regarding dental procedures in Florida during coronavirus, visit the Florida Dental Association’s coronavirus page.

Vanessa Henry is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for spring 2020.
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