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By Anne Blythe
Though many dentists across the state have stopped doing routine cleanings, elective surgery and some of their other non-urgent care during the COVID-19 pandemic, some continue to provide emergency service.
By doing so, the dentists can help to keep those patients from seeking care in emergency rooms across the state, preserving as many resources as possible to care for those affected by any swift-moving and highly contagious coronavirus outbreaks.
To make it easier for people with dental needs to find a practice or clinic that can help them during these unprecedented times, the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative has developed a map showing the status of providers across the state.
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Source: North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative
“Oral health issues won’t just disappear as we continue to navigate this crisis, but we must reduce strain on our emergency departments, which is just one benefit that we hope this resource will provide,” said Zachary Brian, the collaborative’s program director. “The clinics and practice sites on this map are additional options to consider for urgent needs before visiting an ED, and we hope that communities across the state find this resource helpful.”
In North Carolina, where a shortage of dentists exists in much of the rural regions, emergency departments see people coming in for non-traumatic oral health issues at twice the national rate.
Like many other states trying to protect as many people as possible from the novel pathogen that has closed schools, businesses and wreaked financial turmoil, North Carolina has stopped short of ordering a halt to all dental procedures.
The American Dental Association, the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and the state Department of Health and Human Services have issued guidance for dentists wondering how to respond to the unusual position they are in.
Dentists, hygienists and other oral health care workers are considered to be at higher risk for contracting and transmitting the infection, in part because of their close proximity to their patients, but also because of some of the tools they use.
Drills that use water to cool the bit, as well as aerosol rinsing devices, will send germs from inside the mouth airborne in droplets.
Anybody experiencing an urgent oral health problem is encouraged to seek care at a local practice instead of going to an emergency room, but as with many of the public health guidance today they also are encouraged to call first.
Call before showing up
The practice then can make sure the staff, patient and others around can be protected and isolated. Providers also might be working on scaled-down hours and need advance notice that in typical times is not always necessary.
For anyone experiencing a life-threatening emergency, 911 is still the number to call, the Oral Health Collaborative stressed.