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WHO: Non-Essential Dental Care Should Be Delayed During Pandemic

Dentist Dr. Kathleen Saturay wears additional protective equipment, including a face shield and disposable mask over a respirator mask, as she exams a patient in Seattle, May 27, 2020.

The World Health Organization is releasing guidance on measures to be taken by dental health professionals and patients in oral health services to minimize the risk of being infected with COVID-19.

As everyone in the world can attest, having a tooth ache is no fun and when the pain is bad enough, people will go to the dentist. However, a World Health Organization survey of 103 countries between May and mid-July finds COVID-19 has affected dental services around the world in unprecedented ways.

Dental officer in WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, Benoit Varenne, says 75 percent of survey respondents reported dental services have been completely or partially disrupted because of the coronavirus.

He says the high-level of disruption is linked to the nature of the work provided by the oral health care personnel.

“As you know, dentists, dental nurses, hygienists, and dental assistants work in close contact with patients and are exposed to saliva and blood, and as so, they are using, what we call, spray-generating equipment … and all this equipment are generating, what we call, airborne particles or aerosol," said Varenne.

In communities where transmission of the coronavirus is high, Varenne says WHO recommends priority be given to urgent or emergency oral cases. And in the treatment of patients, he says dental workers should avoid or minimize procedures that may generate aerosols, which can spread the infection and prioritize the use of hand instruments.

“And, of course, to delay routine, non-essential oral health care," said Varenne. "This means going for a checkup, dental cleaning, preventive care and certainly also some aesthetic dental treatment.”

Other WHO recommendations include remote screening, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks before and in-between dental sessions to prevent and reduce the risk of transmission.

Varenne says one of the most pressing issues is to ensure all dental workers have personal protective equipment. This is essential, he says, to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19 and passing it on to their patients.