August 21, 2020

Is it safe to visit the dentist?

You may be wondering whether it is safe to visit your UW dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is definitely safe! At the UW School of Dentistry, no one has caught COVID-19 during dental care – even though thousands of patient visits have taken place in our clinics since COVID arrived.

Dentists have been treating patients during the pandemic for over six months in the USA. Some patients were already infected with COVID-19 when they came to the dentist. Neither they nor the dentist knew it at the time. Still, COVID19 has not spread at any routine dental visit. Dentists practice great infection control. No clusters of any airborne diseases like COVID-19 have spread in dental offices in the world to date. This is backed up by a new study in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals.

The UW School of Dentistry has gone even further. We have included extra steps to keep everyone safe.

  • If anyone – patients, staff, students, or faculty – has COVID19 symptoms, we don’t allow them to come into the school.
  • We do not allow any unnecessary visitors to our facilities.
  • We are having fewer patients come in each day, so people can stay farther apart in clinics and waiting rooms.
  • Our dental team wears extra protective equipment. This includes face shields, high-filtration face masks, hair covers, and disposable gowns.
  • We are installing higher plexiglass partitions between clinic cubicles.
  • Do you need a procedure that will cause significant splatter (the medical term is “aerosol”)? You will have a COVID-19 test first to make sure you are not infectious. You will not pay anything extra out of pocket for this test.
  • Our experts meet every week to discuss the latest science about COVID-19. If there is anything new we should do in our clinics, we do it.

You can definitely come into our UW dental school for your care with confidence. We are staying at the forefront of safety precautions.

Background:
People can catch the virus that causes COVID-19 when they breathe it in, or it contacts their eyes. This usually happens if they are close to an infected person and do not wear a face mask or eye protection.

Aerosols are fine sprays of water. Infected aerosols are aerosols that contain the virus. Coming in contact with infected aerosols can also cause COVID-19 infection.

Some dental procedures can generate aerosols. However, air and water from dental equipment dilute any virus in these aerosols. This makes infection less likely. If we perform one of these procedures, we test the patient for COVID-19 first to make sure they do not carry the virus. Dentists also use high-volume suction and rubber dams to reduce aerosols even more.

Dental aerosols are different from aerosols that some medical procedures create. Those procedures (such as anesthesia and intubation) do not use water. If there is any virus in the aerosol, it is not diluted. The infected aerosol contains more virus, so there is a higher risk of infection.