How to Prevent & Control Spread of Infection at Dental Offices During COVID- 19 – A Guidance For Patients & Dental Practices
Going anywhere during a pandemic, alone, sounds strenuous and in such restricted circumstances, imagine waking up with a terrible toothache. Now, it’s a necessity that you see a dentist! In the current situation of Covid- 19 crisis, this sounds all the more frightening since dentists in particular work in the patient’s mouth while the treatment is being rendered and infectious droplets can spread in a closed operating room.
Now, if you are feeling anxious about returning to the dentist’s chair, you needn’t anymore because the dentists have begun to disrupt the transmission chain, by deploying safety protocols to ensure 100% sterile environment and patient safety. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the resumption of non-emergency dental care during the COVID-19 pandemic to both patients with COVID-19 and patients without COVID-19. With dental settings now opening up to provide care for non emergency treatments as well, necessary precautions are all the more important.
What should dentists do to reduce the threat due to the COVID-19 crisis?
- Disinfect all surfaces: Since the surfaces in dental offices are prone to infection, keeping the surfaces clean and dry is the safest option to prevent the transmission of COVID 19. The droplets of patients’ saliva or blood can easily spread the infection. All sanitization tools should be utilised.
- Keep below capacity facilities: Keeping the facilities below capacity in terms of giving appointments in bulk can help prevent the infection. The dentists must encourage social distancing and should meet one patient at a time. Number of appointments given per day should be reduced to avoid crowding in the premises of the dental office.
- Recording medical and travel history: Confirming from your patient if he/she has faced any symptoms of COVID in the past six months or has travelled anywhere or has had any hospital visits in the past should technically be the first point to keep in mind under the safety protocol. Examine all patients on their arrival.
- Vacate waiting rooms: Waiting rooms or lounges are the places where not only the patients but also the attendants spend most of their time, waiting for the dentists. This should be temporarily avoided and under severe circumstances, not more than one attendant should be allowed or any two chairs be placed in such rooms less than six feet apart.
- Step-wise sterilization for instruments (in sealed pouches): Thorough sterilization of all instruments is the effective means to minimize the risk of cross infection. Wash all the used trays and instruments with antibacterial soap. Brush off all the remaining saliva or blood droplets, if any. Soak them in ultrasonic machines and then place them in disposable sterilization pouches.
- Use rubber dams for dental procedures: In order to prevent saliva from interfering with dental treatment, usage of rubber dams can prove to be advantageous. It can provide a clean and a dry operating field during the dental process.
- PPE kits for dentists, dental assistants and patients: The route of COVID-19 transmission can be the lack of your personal hygiene, which is why the dentists should possess all protective equipment such as surgical masks, full body gowns, face shields, gloves, shoe covers and head caps. Similarly, the gloves, masks and hair caps are recommended for the patients as well.
- Monitor dental health care workers: Make sure all the healthcare workers are screened at the beginning of their shifts for COVID-19 symptoms. Also, the healthcare workers should be adequately trained and they should know how to prevent the contamination of clothes, premises of the dental office and usage of PPE kits during the treatment.
- Aerosol removal and air purifying machinery: It’s not only instruments which produce aerosols/droplets in the dental offices but aerosols are emitted from patients’ mouths as well. Use of an air cleaner at certain distances within the premises can be a good method for reducing the dentists’ exposure to the aerosol particles.
- Routine transportation of bio-medical waste: All the dental waste from the treatment must be managed well. The wastes should be categorised and sealed in tight casing, clearly marked, after which it should be sent to the waste disposal unit.The dental waste is considered to be hazardous and if disposed improperly, it could harm other people and the environment too.
What precautions to take while visiting your dentist?
Your dentist may be ready to offer you a clean chair with all guidelines in place but you as a patient, are also responsible for your safety while visiting a dentist. Here are a few precautions:
- Don’t avoid the screening process and filling the COVID-19 declaration forms: Make sure that you get yourselves screened and your body temperature recorded at the entrance of the dental office itself and that you disclose all details sought in the declaration form, including your travel history, medical records, your hospital visits in the recent past and your contact with any COVID-19 patient, if any.
- Mouth rinsing prior to treatment: Patients using mouthwash before the beginning of the treatment can effectively lessen the number of airborne bacteria. The microbes present in the mouth get washed away so that any droplet from your mouth during the treatment doesn’t prove to be harmful.
- Sanitize your hands immediately: If you are not wearing your gloves, you are likely to touch the door latch, reception desk or pens used by other patients. Thus, it becomes necessary to immediately sanitise your hands once you are free from the dental office. You should always remember to sanitize your hands when you use a restroom in a dental office. Remember to dispose off the gloves after usage.
- Keep the hair cap and face mask handy: During the dental treatment, you would not need a mask but while you are in the premises or while consulting a doctor, you should have your mask on so that you don’t breathe in the infectious particles.