Should You Go for a Dentist or Doctor's Appointment During COVID-19?

For the near future, check-ups are now anything but routine

July 8, 2020 9:23 am
Your dental cleanings will a little more old-school during the pandemic
Peter Dazeley/Getty

While some states have halted or paused reopenings, here in New York, we’re now happy to be allowed to see our doctors and dentists again. I did, and I have to admit that there was something strangely calming about going through typical medical procedures and checkups that didn’t involve the word “COVID.”

My recent doctor experiences involved a dental check-up I scheduled back in December (greeting: “So, doc, what’s new?”) and my yearly physical (which, admittedly, also included an antibody test). Nothing was too surprising about the appointments in our new pandemic world — the staff wore considerable PPE and multiple masks/shields, the doctor appointment was much more of an interview about how I was feeling than a tactile “check-up” (except for a blood pressure test and a blood sample) and my dentist had switched to an older method of cleaning teeth that sent out fewer aerosols.

Waiting rooms were more protected from close interactions and completely lacking magazines, and any pen I touched, I got to keep. On the downside: I got hit with the extra $15 PPE charge.

Realizing that my NYC experience might not reflect medical procedures everywhere, I polled more than two dozen medical professionals across the country about how they’re adjusting to non-coronavirus appointments. A sample of their responses are below.

More pre-screening 

“We’ve been sending out a digital questionnaire to our patients the day before their visit to see if they have any COVID-19 symptoms,” says Beverly Hills-based dentist Dr. Kourosh Maddahi, DDS. “And each patient must also have their temperature taken and recorded outside of our office before walking through the door.”

Less direct interaction once you arrive

“When patients first arrive outside our office, they give us a call to let them know they’re here,” explains Dr. Jared Cox of Today’s Family Dentistry in Searcy, AR. “And we remodeled our entrance and waiting area to keep patients safe and at a distance as they come into the practice.” The office is also heavily investing in no-touch doors.

More air-cleaning technology

“Every area in our office is now equipped with a device to constantly scrub the room air,” says Dr. Kenneth Magid DDS FICD, located in Westchester County, NY. “These devices turn over the air in the room every eight minutes and run it through a series of filters, UV-C lights and titanium dioxide elements, creating ‘surgically clean air’ in every room.” To deal with the aerosol problem that’s common in dentistry, Magid’s practice has also added “extra-oral suction devices” placed near the face. 

Dr. Magid’s practice is also “fogging” each room and practitioner between patients with HOCL (hypochlorous acid) to kill viruses and bacteria.

Lasers are the future

“The newest procedure is laser cleanings,” explains Dr. Todd Bertman of NYC’s Advanced Dental Arts. “Traditional cleanings create aerosols — droplets of water containing bacteria and viruses sprayed into the air during a basic cleaning. Laser cleanings produce no aerosols. We also use lasers to treat gum disease.”

Telehealth is here to stay

“We’re seeing a major shift to virtual and online care for the first point of contact, including triage and onboarding,” says Ted Chan, the CEO of CareDash, a doctor review site. “And insurance information is now collected over the phone or through web forms rather than in person. 

One interesting start-up to watch here: Heal, a doctor’s office that specializes in virtual visits but also house calls (where you very well might get a visit in your well-ventilated backyard). 

Surprisingly, the same level of service (if you’re tested)

“If the patients are tested 48 hours before their appointment and are negative for COVID-19, we can do all procedures with the extra protection,” says Dr. Pia Lieb DDS, founder of Cosmetic Dentistry Center NYC.

Your kids will be kept at arm’s length

Realizing these are stressful times for kids, too, Dr. Catalina Botero, DDS, of Li’l Sunshine Smiles Dentistry in Tampa, FL is scheduling mask-free FaceTime visits before seeing patients in person. “This way, you can hear the concerns of your patient and their caregivers. We also recommend this because, if it’s the child’s first time in your office, they shouldn’t see you for the first time in a face mask,” she says. Dr. Botero also admits they are more likely to reschedule elective procedures if it’s deemed safe. 

Interestingly enough, the doctor is also putting a new emphasis on office decor. “People are considerably more stressed and anxious during this time, so investing in upbeat music, warm color schemes and happy art has the ability to make patients feel a little happier when at your office, especially if those patients are kids,” she says.

But really, that’s one change we can all live with.

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