What experts say about visiting the doctor, dentist amid coronavirus

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The CDC issued updated interim infection prevention and control guidance for dental settings amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 19.

As dentists and doctors offices begin to open for routine, preventative care appointments in Georgia and around the country, some may be concerned about how safe it is for a visit.

If you're one of those people in need of a physical or teeth cleaning, experts have shared some advice on what to do with NPR.

» Complete Coverage: Coronavirus in Georgia

Aimee Palumbo, an epidemiologist at Temple University, says people should consider their health status when pondering resuming preventative care.

“The people that are at highest risk of COVID or poor outcomes from COVID are also the ones that ... are going to benefit the most also from these routine procedures, so we have to recognize that these things still do need to happen,” Palumbo told NPR. “It's better to treat something sooner than later, so it is still important to continue their care even while this is going on.”

Michael LeVasseur, a visiting assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told NPR patients should call their doctor. When you do, Palumbo and Neal Goldstein, an epidemiologist at Drexel University, have a list of questions patients can ask:

  • Do the staff and patients always wear masks?
  • Do the staff have enough masks and personal protective equipment?
  • Is there a limit on how many people can be in a waiting room?
  • Are the staff being tested for COVID-19?
  • How often are the waiting room and offices cleaned?
  • Can you take public transit while keeping your distance from other people and washing your hands before and afterward?

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Visiting the dentist may especially concern patients since dental hygienists have to work directly in their mouths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined considerations for dental offices to take.

The CDC recommends that all patients are telephone screened and telephone triaged before appointments. Patients should also be asked to limit the number of visitors accompanying them to an appointment and be advised that they and anyone whom they bring with them will be asked to wear a mask.

Upon arriving for their appointment, the CDC says patients should wear a face mask, have their temperature taken and be asked about COVID-19-related symptoms.

» RELATED: Dental offices reopen but struggle to meet CDC guidance

While face masks obviously can’t be worn during care, patients should be asked to put it back on when leaving the treatment area.

Still, there’s concern that a patient may later be confirmed to have COVID-19.

“To address this, (dental health care personnel) should request that the patient inform the dental clinic if they develop symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days following the dental appointment,” the CDC says.

There are also considerations for facilities. They include placing chairs at least six feet apart in the waiting area, minimizing the number of patients in the waiting area and removing magazines, toys and frequently touched objects that cannot be cleaned.