“We believe patients have responded quite well … the vast majority of clients trust the process, they trust the procedures and they are coming back.”—Dr Naser Albarbari, Chief of Clinical Dental Services at Australian Unity.
- Visiting the dentist was difficult during COVID-19 lockdowns; it’s time for people to start getting regular check-ups again.
- Your dentist is aware of the responsibility they have to make patients feel at ease.
- You should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Some conditions may not be visible or painful but will still need prompt treatment.
As we all move out of COVID-19 lockdowns and away from restrictions, there is a good chance you might have missed some important healthcare appointments along the way.
A big one many of us may have skipped, some more than once, is a dental check-up.
But what happens if you have delayed your preventative dental appointments? Or maybe you’ve put off getting an essential dental procedure and you’re wondering what going to the dentist looks like now.
We spoke to dental professionals for their advice to help ease concerns and get people back in the dental chair.
Making things easier for you
When it comes to returning to the dentist, Australian Unity is making it as easy as possible for patients to feel safe and assured.
Dental practices are screening patients to ensure they are fit and well for their appointment, with a call or an SMS prior and further screening questions when they arrive.
Until recently, waiting rooms have been subject to density limits, and items like magazines and toys have been removed to reduce the likelihood of transmission of germs. Hand washing by patients is also a widely used protocol.
Dr Naser Albarbari, Chief of Clinical Dental Services at Australian Unity, says dental clinics are aware of the responsibility they have to make patients feel at ease.
“The expectation is we all have to be responsible,” Dr Albarbari says. “Although social distancing requirements are no longer mandated, we strongly encourage clients to utilise extra spaces so that people don’t feel uncomfortable or crowded waiting in a reception area.
“Interestingly, there are very few documented cases of COVID transmissions in dental settings and I think part of this is due to the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) dental staff use.
“I think it was a little bit uncomfortable for people to come to healthcare facilities during COVID peaks, but we like to assure patients that the level of PPE and cleaning has this under control and there are so few transmissions of infection.”
Patient wellbeing the priority
Dr Steve Liew, Australian Dental Association (ADA) Vice President and a Melbourne dentist, says it’s important for patients to know that dental practices remain safe and hygienic places.
“Dentists will always use the full range of personal protective equipment for every patient,” Dr Liew says.
“This includes protective disposable surgical mask and sometimes a full-face shield, goggles, disposable gown and disposable gloves. Oral rinses for patients are also being used by most dentists to maintain the highest infection control levels.
“After every patient, the room is fully cleaned with disinfectant, including the chair, overhead light and the equipment.”
Dr Albarbari says he has already seen a positive response to these measures, with dental clinic appointments coming back to pre-pandemic levels.
“We believe patients have responded quite well to that, as we have seen patient bookings return to normal,” he says.
“We have had some people who were extremely cautious, who tend to postpone their treatment or appointments, but the vast majority of clients trust the process, they trust the procedures and they are coming back. The other important thing to note is that all our staff are triple-vaccinated.”
How has COVID affected the dental healthcare habits of Australians?
After two years of COVID-19 restrictions, the ADA says a number of patterns have emerged when it comes to dental healthcare.
“A percentage of the population neglected their oral health during the pandemic as they lost their jobs or had their hours reduced and with household incomes reduced, people did not prioritise dental visits,” Dr Liew says.
“Further, successive lockdowns in some states have meant people have not been able to access their dentist for long periods unless it was an emergency.”
The ADA says some of the more common oral health issues dentists have seen include:
- An increase in cracked teeth, tooth sensitivity or pain associated with clenching or grinding of the teeth, a condition known as bruxism.
- An increase in tension or pain from the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and/or surrounding muscles.
- Patients feeling overwhelmed, affecting their ability to process and decide on complex treatment.
What are the risks with delaying your check-up?
It depends on the oral health of the person. If you have maintained good oral health by brushing twice a day, flossing, having a balanced diet, and have no ongoing untreated conditions like tooth decay, then waiting for over 12 months should not be problematic.
However, you should still make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Some conditions may not be visible or painful to the patient but will still need prompt treatment.
“We encourage our patients to attend twice a year so we can conduct the usual check-ups and do cleaning, scaling, and removing tartar,” Dr Albarbari says. “Failure to do that in a timely manner can result in risk of gum diseases in adults and risk of dental decay in children.
“Children are a high-risk group because flossing is difficult for them, their brushing technique is not as meticulous, and their dietary intake may not be as ideal as it should be. So we’ve noticed an increase in dental decay in children and adolescents because they’ve missed one or two appointments.”
Prevention is always better than the cure, so if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, it’s probably time you made that appointment so you can keep maintaining good oral health, with the knowledge that dental practices are safe places to have your oral care needs met.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee titles and employer are cited as at the time of interview and may have changed since publication.