Between government-mandated pandemic lockdowns, shifting rules and regulations, and COVID-19 generally rearranging priorities, those calendar reminders to book your regularly scheduled dentist appointments may have come and gone. But oral health professionals at one group of clinics are encouraging patients to be rest assured that they aren’t alone in missing a visit or two.
“It is not uncommon that people miss dental visits,” says Vivek Dalal, a dental hygienist at Capital Dentistry. “I tell my patients we understand that life happens and dental visits go on back burners.
“The whole dental community is a judgment-free space for anyone who wants to take the first step towards their oral well-being. We take pride in a patient-centred approach and building a relationship that can help them achieve their oral health goals.”
Dentists’ priority is creating a safe environment, rather than judging anyone who may be feeling anxious about not seeing a dentist as often as they normally might, adds Dr. Mark McCullough, Capital Dentistry’s co-founder and chief dental officer.
“Everyone’s life has been affected dramatically,” he says. “After the lockdown last March, we didn’t open back up until June for normal care. That not only created a backlog of appointments but also a lot of people didn’t know we were open, so they didn’t come.”
Booking an appointment today does look different than it did a year ago, with good reason. Dentists have taken a holistic approach to the precautions they put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
These measures range from personal protective equipment for staff to switching to paperless records to limit the amount of paper office staff handles. At Capital Dentistry, for example, staff members send a COVID-19 questionnaire a week ahead of an appointment and then another a day ahead of an appointment, walk-in visits are currently unavailable, and an increased office sanitization routine was implemented.
The best strategy for anyone experiencing anxiety about visiting a dentist during the pandemic is to call an office and speak with someone directly, McCullough suggests.
Measures have been put in place at Capital Dentistry to ensure patient safety. SUPPLIED PHOTOS
“There have been lots of questions and we have lots of answers,” he says. “We are well-versed in helping people understand the safety measures we have in place and why it’s important to continue coming in so they don’t end up with worse problems down the road.
“One of the precautions worth highlighting is that we have reduced the use of aerosol instruments in favour of hand scaling. Patients who haven’t had regular hygiene visits in a while may need some advanced cleaning techniques that do use aerosol instruments. For those instances, we have enclosed rooms with air purification units that further reduce the possibility of issues that could occur.”
Even prior to the pandemic, dentist offices operated on a foundation of universal precautions based on not knowing which patients may have ailments such as the flu or conditions such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, McCullough says. That approach led to extreme caution across the board, which has been further increased during the pandemic.
Both Dalal and McCullough say attending regularly scheduled visits is important for reasons far beyond removing buildup from the teeth. To start, each dental appointment is an opportunity for hygienists and/or dentists to screen for oral cancer, prevent the chance of gum disease, catch cavities and infections early for conservative treatment, and assess a patient’s oral homecare to offer advice that will reduce the chances of gum disease or cavities.
“From a general health perspective, oral health is a window to overall health,” says Dalal. “We can see oral manifestation of several diseases. Studies suggest that bacteria and inflammation related to gum disease might play a big role in general health disease. On the other hand, disease like diabetes can vastly affect your gum health.”
In between visits, Dalal and McCullough encourage patients to be diligent with their homecare routine. General recommendations include brushing twice daily and flossing at least once a day while also following any specially tailored advice based on personal history. McCullough also suggests that what goes into the mouth plays a crucial role in oral health.
“Maintaining healthy eating habits and reducing lifestyle stress is more important than people think,” he says. “Changes in eating patterns and brushing techniques can really impact oral health, so maintaining a good healthy diet is key. Also, monitor that your kids are doing the same.”