What to expect at your next dentist appointment as offices reopen following shutdown

Posted at 5:28 PM, May 21, 2020

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Your next trip to the dentist will likely look a lot different than your last appointment – fewer staff members, additional sanitary measures, and in some cases, extra fees.

But dentists reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown want patients to know it's safe to go back to the dentist. And after weeks of delayed appointments, avoiding care could do more harm than good.

"Cavities haven't paused, gum disease hasn't paused, little cavities have turned into big cavities, big cavities have turned into infections and swellings," said Dr. Kami Hoss.

Hoss is a co-founder of The Super Dentists, a San Diego practice centered around kids with six locations.

"We are a high-risk profession, but on the flip side, it's something we've had to deal with for decades. We deal with pathogens and we have really great infection control protocols already in place," said Dr. Hoss.

He sums up the six things you can expect to experience before, during, and after your next visit if your dentist is following the American Dental Association's (ADA) recommendations for reopening.

  1. A welcome-back letter or email, letting you know what exactly your dentist is doing for up-to-date infection control measures.
  2. A pre-visit screening will take place before you ever step into the office to ensure you have no COVID-19 symptoms. This screening may take place over the phone or via videoconferencing.
  3. There will be unusual "asks." For instance, dentists are being advised to consider asking patients to wait in their cars or nearby instead of the waiting room to avoid spreading coronavirus. They are advised to ask patients to bring in their own pens to fill out forms to preempt the sharing of germs.
  4. After you walk into a dentist's office, there will be new registration procedures. These will include sanitizing your hands near the front desk and getting your temperature checked.
  5. Expect your dentist to request that you call his or her office if you have any COVID-19 symptoms up to two weeks after your visit.
  6. The waiting room will look dramatically different. Every seat in will be six feet apart. There will be no toys, reading materials, or TV remote controls lying around. Hand sanitizer bottles will be available throughout the room.

Dr. Hoss says his practice has gone a few steps further to put patients at ease, upgrading the ventilation system and installing UV light cleaning technology. He's also purchased a high-tech machine to suction the aerosols from a patient's mouth.
His dentists and hygienists will also wear full personal protective equipment (PPE), which protects both the provider and the patient.

Some dental offices are charging patients a $10 to $15 fee to cover the added expense of PPE. The ADA says the cost of these supplies has increased considerably and it's up to the individual practice to decide whether or not to charge patients.

The American Dental Association (ADA) strongly encourages dental offices to disclose any additional fees upfront to patients and to document these charges in the patient record. The ADA has recommended that dental benefit carriers should either adjust the maximum allowable fees for all procedures to cover the increased costs of PPE or allow an additional standard fee per date of service per patient.

After weeks of preparation, Dr. Hoss wants people to know that patient safety is of the utmost importance in dental offices around the country.

"We've done all those additional things because we want to make sure we've created an environment I feel comfortable having my own family here, and I feel like we're there."