Getting your teeth cleaned is not as simple as it used to be

In the nearly three months since dentists in Ontario were asked to suspend non-essential procedures, face coverings and physical distancing have become visible new elements of public life.

Gaping mouths “speaking moistly” can transmit COVID-19, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed out on April 7.

So the news on June 1 that dentists in Ontario are allowed to reopen their offices for in-person treatment comes with some caveats.

“There is still a pandemic happening — that’s why dentists are taking extra precautions to ensure the protection of their patients, staff and themselves,” reads a statement from the Ontario Dental Association. “Your next appointment will be a little different than what you’re used to.”

Here is what patients can expect during visits to the dentist now.

The new process

According to the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, patients can expect to be pre-screened for appointments, both on the phone and upon arrival at the office. If a patient screens positive for the virus and does not need emergency dental treatment, treatment will be postponed until their health improves.

Appointments will be spaced out to allow physical distancing between patients and time for staff to disinfect offices between appointments. This will likely result in less flexibility for scheduling appointments.

Waiting rooms and common areas are likely to be restricted and will not have magazines or toys. Washrooms may not be available.

Treatment rooms will be enclosed, with doors closed for treatment. Staff may ask patients to wear a mask when not in the treatment room, and to wait outside the office prior to an appointment.

Dentists may ask patients to gargle with a rinse such as hydrogen peroxide before a procedure.

Patient responsibilities

Patients are expected to report any suspected signs or symptoms of COVID-19 to a dental hygienist prior to visiting the office, and may only bring one essential support person to an appointment.

Patients should also use provided hand sanitizer before entering and exiting the office and any other time that seems appropriate.

Dentist and dental hygienist responsibilities

Dental offices must meet updated safety guidelines by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario before they can reopen.

Dental staff will wear more protective gear than usual, including masks, face shields, and gowns. They will need to ensure they have adequate personal protective equipment before scheduling in-person appointments.

Wait times and backlogs

As they manage a backlog of cases caused by the 12-week suspension of dental procedures in Ontario, dentists will need to prioritize patients who need care most urgently. As a result, most patients can expect a longer wait time to see the dentist than they were used to before COVID-19.

“Dentists are happy to get back to providing care, but it’s not like flipping the switch,” said ODA president Dr. Lesli Hapak in a statement. “Dentists have a backlog of patients and have to treat those who need immediate care first. We’re asking for everyone’s patience and understanding.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this article came from guidelines from the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario. The guidelines differ on some issues surrounding safety and COVID-19.

Author Megan DeLaire
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