Recent History - COVID-19 and Level 3
The Australian Dental Association Infection Control Committee produced a guideline document in March 2020 with different levels of restriction of practice to help reduce the risk from COVID-19. This ranged from level 0 (no changes to our normal highly regulated infection control), through to level 5 (treatment of significant facial swelling in hospital settings only). In late March - due to growing levels of Coronavirus - the government and Dental Board of Australia deemed it appropriate to protect dental staff (dentists, allied dental practitioners, and assistants) and the public from a possible risk and implemented level 3. This level 3 restriction, put simply, meant that unless you had a toothache you couldn't see a dentist. The range of treatment options that were allowed was also reduced.
As of April 27 2020, dentistry is returning to level 2 restrictions. This means that you can access a dentist more readily, and a larger range of dental treatments will be possible. There are still some restrictions aimed at protecting dental staff.
Can everyone be seen?
The guidelines recommend deferring routine treatment for people over 70 years old, those who are immunocompromised (e.g. those undergoing cancer treatment, insulin dependent diabetics). Urgent and high priority dental treatment can be completed. If you are unsure talk to your medical doctor (GP) and dentist - they are in the best position to know your general health and make appropriate recommendations. Patients presenting to the dentist should bring as few people as possible to the appointment (i.e. only bring people required to support you for your appointment).
Can I still get a check-up?
Dental examinations (check-ups), consultations, radiographs (x-rays), photographs and other examinations are all available, however it is likely that for the short-term dental practices will be prioritising patients that know they have a problem rather than just routine examinations.
Can I get my teeth cleaned?
Yes, however only hand instruments should be used (nothing that produces air & water spray, or splatter - ultrasonic cleaners and polishing devices) - this means that you or your dentist may choose to defer cleaning until the restrictions are eased further.
Can I get a filling done?
Yes, however this would need to be done with hand instruments, or more likely your dentist will use a rubber dam (dental dam). These rubber dams stop your saliva from being present around the tooth and drill, and therefore stops it being sprayed into the air. Dentists are prioritising larger fillings, people with a high risk of their decay getting worse quickly and other dental disease that may lead to pain. If rubber dam is not able to be used, you may get a temporary filling that then requires replacement at a later stage when restrictions are eased further.
What do I do? Who should I talk to?
Get in contact with your dentist. Each practice will have its own protocols and procedures. Please be patient – some practices had closed and others were in partial shut-down. It is expected that priority will be given to people with more urgent issues – chronic infections, chipped and broken teeth, lost fillings and similar that have been unable to access treatment for the past few weeks. If the decline in the number of cases of COVID-19 continues, it is expected that dentistry will return to level 1 restrictions - which means all dental treatment will be available with screening aiming to exclude anyone who may have COVID-19.
- Contributed by Dr Christopher Sanzaro, Councillor, Australian Dental Association Tasmanian Branch Inc.