Less Drilling Less Germ Spray: Dentistry Adapts to the Covid Era

Less Drilling Less Germ Spray: Dentistry Adapts to the Covid Era

The pandemic has forced dentists and hygienists to change some of the methods for maintaining good oral hygiene, to protect patients as well as themselves.

She had been wary of keeping the appointment anyway, worried about someone else’s fingers and instruments exploring her mouth at a time when more than 25,000 Americans were contracting the coronavirus daily.

“It’s just too up close in that mouth-nasal region,” said Ms. Enkoji, 70, a marketing design consultant based in Santa Monica.

When she returned to her dentist’s office in September for a cleaning, she was asked to wash her hands and use an antimicrobial mouth rinse, steps that federal health guidance said might help curb the spread of germs in aerosol and splatter during treatment.

Without a doubt, dentistry is among the more intimate health professions. Patients must keep their mouths wide open as dentists and hygienists poke around inside with mirrors, scalers, probes and, until recently, those cringe-inducing drills.

Such drills and other power equipment, including ultrasonic scalers and air polishers, can produce suspended droplets or aerosol spray that may hang in the air, potentially carrying the virus that could endanger patients and staff.

Dr. Todd Kandl performs a root canal at his dentistry practice in East Stroudsburg, Pa., with extra Covid precautions, including an external oral air scrubber, an oral dental dam on the patient and extra layers of protective clothing.

Less Drilling Less Germ Spray: Dentistry Adapts to the Covid Era

Today, dental offices operate in a markedly different way than they did pre-pandemic. Since reopening in May and June, they have been following federal guidelines and industry group recommendations aimed at curtailing the spread of Covid.
Sign up for Science Times: Get stories that capture the wonders of nature, the cosmos and the human body.

And while vaccination offers fresh promise, there are new worries about more contagious variants of the virus as well as a months-long timetable for rolling out the vaccines to the general public.

Many dental offices have stayed open in recent months, with dentists and hygienists geared up in face shields, masks, gowns, gloves and hair covers resembling shower caps. They have set aside aerosol-spewing power equipment, and hygienists instead rely on traditional hand tools to remove patients’ built-up plaque and tartar.

Under the new practices, patients typically get called a few days before visits and are asked if they have any Covid symptoms. They may be told to wait in their cars until they can be seen. Their temperatures may be taken before entering a dental office, and they have to wear masks, except during treatment, all measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.