15 JUNE 2020

One of the many knock-on effects caused by COVID-19 has been the impact on oral health. Specifically, visiting the dentist.

On 24 March, the coronavirus pandemic forced all dental practices in the UK to close, except for a number of emergency treatment stations.  For the next 2 months and 15 days, thousands of people had their appointments cancelled and treatments postponed.

This changed on 8 June, when dental practices in England were given the green light to reopen their doors.  

Just like the retail sector, dental practices have needed to adapt to their previously ‘normal’ day-to-day routine.  To help them reopen safely, dental practices have been handed a series of recommendations based on the latest evidence.

Any changes have been made to make your experience as safe and comfortable as possible. Here’s a summary of what you might expect…

Changes on arrival

Before you visit your dentist, all dental practices will be contacting you to check whether you feel well.  They will be asking you a few questions about your health and the health of the people you live with.  Nobody with any signs of COVID-19 will be able to visit the dental practice.

Appointments can only be made by telephone and dental practices ask that you do not visit them without an appointment.  As a precaution, you may find their doors will be locked.  If they are, ring the bell or give the reception a call and they will let you inside.

It is best to arrive alone and on time (rather than early).  This will minimise your time in the waiting room.

While you are waiting

When you arrive at reception, a few things will be different.  The first might be that a member of staff­ is waiting for you to check your temperature.  This is likely to be done by an ear thermometer and is to check for signs of a fever.

The next noticeable change on arrival might be that you will be asked to sanitise your hands.  This will be provided for you.  There will also be a protective barrier at reception – much like what you now see when shopping.  

You may be asked to wear a protective face mask and even shoe covers.  Some practices may also ask that you put any belongings in a clean bag.

When you enter the waiting room you will notice that it has been reorganised for social distancing.  Be reassured that it is cleaned frequently and anything that isn't easy to disinfect has already been removed.

Changes to how dental teams work

The most important thing to know in the wake of coronavirus, is how dental teams are making sure you are safe during treatment.     

Firstly, the treatment room will be well ventilated.  This means creating an airflow which does not recirculate, and that old air can leave the room as quickly as possible.

You will see that the dental team is wearing extra protective equipment, like PPE.  As always, their equipment is fully sterilised.

The little sink next to the chair may also be removed or covered up.  This means no rinsing.  Instead, your mouth will be cleared with suction. 

All dental practices will be using equipment and techniques with a lower risk of spray.  Emergency procedures, which produce high levels of spray, will be done in a different room.

Non-urgent procedures may be delayed, and dental practices are allowing more time between patients.  This allows them to thoroughly clean the treatment room between patients.

When you are leaving

The final changes during the new dental practice experience, is when you leave.

Firstly, it is safer to pay with a contactless card if you can, and use your own pen to sign any paperwork. 

Usually, you might be handed a piece of paper or leaflet with advice or instructions about your treatment.  In the short term, this will no longer happen.  Instead, this information will be texted or emailed to you.

Finally, if you were asked to hand of your belongings on arrival, these will now be returned.

In summary

It’s important that you, as a patient, are comforted by the measures that are being taken.  All changes that have been made for the safety of staff and patients alike.

For those living in other parts of the UK, where dental practices remain closed, it is likely that many of these measures will be taken once your practices have been okayed to resume activity.

If in doubt, call your dental practice and ask them what changes they have made to your routine appointment.  They will be able to put your mind at ease and reassure you.