Stay Safe From the Coronavirus at the Dentist

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that dentists treat patients only after assessing them for COVID-19 and after weighing the risks of delayed care against the risk of potential viral exposure.

That's because dental care poses clear infection risks: Dentists and hygienists must work very close to your face and use tools that may spray droplets. "Dental staff will now be wearing additional personal protective equipment, such as face shields, gowns, and masks," says Chad Gehani, D.D.S., president of the American Dental Association.

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Your dental office may also want you to fill out a screening form (asking about recent travel, social interactions, and health history) and do a temperature check prior to an appointment. Some practices may have "virtual check-ins," where patients wait in their car, sign in for the appointment on their smartphone, and receive a text when it's time to enter the building. Inside, waiting-room chairs might be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Because rules vary from state to state, call your dentist's office in advance to find out exactly what protocols it has in place. Note that regular checkups may be postponed: Crowns, fillings, or bridges, for instance, may take priority over a cleaning, Gehani says. In the meantime, keep brushing and flossing regularly at home.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.