UPDATE: The day after this story aired, the American Dental Association recommended that all dentists halt all elective procedures for three weeks.
Few professions get closer to us as patients than dentists, and with the push for social distancing, you might wonder about the safety of practicing good oral hygiene.
I was wondering the same thing when I went to the dentist Monday and discovered some really helpful information.
That morning, I pulled up to my dentist's office and wondered if I should go in. It was just a routine appointment, but the coronavirus made me nervous about keeping it, especially when it’s a touchy-feely type of appointment.
I decided to go inside and talk with the staff and dentist.
Dr. Merlin Ohmer at Dental Doctors of Florida is my dentist, and he told me he is already doing all kinds of things to keep illnesses – not just coronavirus -- from spreading.
"Yes, it’s OK to go to the dentist," Ohmer said, "as long as the proper precautions are taken. We do everything we possibly can do to make it safe for our patients."
He said, "I’ve started asking my patients the standard list of questions, such as: Are you running a fever? Have you felt bad? Have you traveled to any area that’s on the big watch list?"
He also tells his patients, "I wash my hands. Would you like to, too?"
He and his staff wear protective gear while with their patients, which is nothing new. They wear gloves, masks, protective eyewear and protective clothing.
"That became standard practice in the 80s with the AIDS/HIV outbreak," Ohmer said.
The exam chairs are covered in plastic.
"We take them off and change them with every patient," he noted.
Regarding the equipment he and the staff uses, he said, "the areas we touch we wrap with another sheet of paper."
He said the layout of the office is important too.
"It also helps if you’re not in an open treatment area," he said. "As we have here, we have smaller contained rooms."
Ohmer nodded, "It’s pretty rigorous what we go through."
There’s good reason for it, too.
In a recent report by the New York Times, dentists and paramedics are some of the professionals who are at the greatest risk of contracting diseases on the job, partly because of how close they get to other people.
"I’m sure," Ohmer nodded, "because we’re messing with people’s oral cavities which typically aren’t a clean spot."
Dr. Ohmer knows about infectious diseases. For 30 years, he was a dentist in the military.
"At numerous duty stations, I ran the infection control program for multiple facilities," he said.
And he told me, "I don't' want, and none of my employees want, to pick up anything, and we certainly don’t want to pass anything to our patients."
Those were encouraging words, especially when I’m one of those patients.
Feeling calmer and more comfortable, I decided to follow through with my appointment. And good news: No cavities!