Patients have been warned not to attend “non-urgent” dental appointments until the full risk factor of COVID-19 is better understood, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Dental practices have been gradually opening their doors to patients after an almost complete shutdown earlier this year, albeit with extensive personal protective equipment (PPE) measures in place.
Dental and other healthcare specialists have said that an ongoing lockdown of dental services could have a devastating impact on the health of some patients.
Oral health is linked not just to dental health but to broader health problems too.
But WHO dental officer Benoit Varenne said that that risk of infection is still too poorly understood to say that attending dental appointments, especially for non-urgent reasons like check-ups, scaling or polishing, should be recommended.
Ultrasonic cleaning, air and water sprays and polishing could all send coronaviruses airborne out of a patient’s mouth, Varenne said.
He added: “The likelihood of COVID-19 being transmitted through aerosol, micro-particles or airborne particles […] today I think is unknown, it’s open to question at least. This means that more research is needed.”
Varenne said that “the most pressing issue” is related to the availability of essential PPE for all healthcare personnel undertaking or assisting in the clinical procedures.
But his comments, reported by the Daily Mail, that patients should avoid non-urgent appointments due to unspecified potential “airborne risks” has split opinion.
As in other areas of healthcare – notably cardiac and cancer care – delays to diagnosis and treatment could be causing more problems in the long run than the pandemic in itself ever will.