If there is ever a more critical time to have unity among health organizations about providing treatment to patients, it is now. That is why the latest and inconsistent recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the ADA are so frustrating.
As dental professionals, it is important we remain open and continue to provide care, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Partially pausing dental care, yet again, will be doing a disservice to our patients and profession.
Earlier this month, the WHO released interim guidance advising routine, non-essential oral healthcare be postponed because of COVID-19 transmission rates. Less than two weeks later, the ADA released a statement stating it “respectfully yet strongly disagrees.” In it, ADA president Chad P. Ghani said, “oral health is integral to overall health. Dentistry is essential healthcare.” Here’s why I agree with the ADA.
Dental Offices Are Not Spreading COVID-19 Cases
Dental offices throughout the country reopened in mid-May and, to date, there has been no evidence of COVID-19 transmission between patients and offices. That is remarkable.
As a profession, we are leaders in handling infectious disease, dating back to the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Offices nationwide were already using standard precautions before the pandemic began. A large majority of offices have now stepped up safety protocols, revamping them to strengthen ventilation, sanitation procedures, and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. We are equipped to handle this crisis.
Most Patients Are Ready to Come back
Before the WHO came out with its latest recommendation, the ADA surveyed patients about whether they felt safe to return for a dental visit. Roughly 75% of patients surveyed said they felt comfortable going back to the dentist, and 15% said they were waiting for a medical breakthrough.
This shows the grand majority of dental patients are comfortable with our efforts to keep them safe. Those who feel that way shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to continue caring for their oral health, especially considering our safety record. And for the patients who have been on the fence, the WHO’s statement has created unnecessary confusion, only adding to their apprehension and lessening the likelihood that they will seek the care they need.
Oral Health Issues Aren’t Going Away
The WHO seems oblivious to a key aspect of this discussion: oral health issues don’t just pause because there is a pandemic. Cavities get bigger, cross bites worsen, and gum diseases deteriorate. Some of these issues can cause serious and irreversible harm.
Poor oral health can have an impact on pregnancies, sleep, and emotional well-being. And, we must not forget, oral health has a profound connection to systemic health, including lung health. Ignoring this during the pandemic is negligent and wrong.
Gum Disease May Contribute to COVID-19 Deaths
Not surprisingly, new research is finding there may be a link between gum disease and COVID-19. The data suggests COVID-19 patients with underlying gum disease may have a higher risk of life-threatening health complications from the virus. If this isn’t a glaring reason to continue to treat patients amidst the pandemic, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, I went into the dental profession to care for people’s health. This is a time when our help is needed most. Besides preventive measures such as masks, social distancing, and washing hands to reduce the risk of contracting the virus altogether, the next best tool to fight it is to stay healthy. That means exercising, eating right, and taking care of your mouth. Oral health must be part of this equation. This is our time to step up.
Dr. Hoss is an orthodontist and dentofacial orthopedist as well as the founder of the Super Dentists, an author, and a philanthropist. He has decades of experience working in the dental space and has treated more than 10,000 patients. He is on the Board of Counselors at the UCLA School of Dentistry and has served on the faculty at Howard Healthcare Academy and the University of Southern California’s postgraduate orthodontic program. He is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, ADA, California Dental Association, and San Diego Dental Society. With this extensive background, he has developed a reputation for innovation and making oral health care accessible, welcoming, educational, and entertaining for families.