It is still important to keep up with your routine medical appointments, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Going to the dentist for regular cleanings and checkups remains important for your health, even for cancer patients.
Here, Nathaniel Treister, DMD, DMSc, clinical director of Oral Medicine and Oral Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, answers common questions about going to the dentist during COVID-19, as well as tips for how to remain safe while doing so.
Is it safe to go to the dentist during COVID-19?
Yes. It is safe and people should continue to go for their regular cleanings and checkups. Dental offices are taking all of the necessary precautions to keep their patients and staff safe. If you are concerned, ask your dentist’s office what precautions they have put in place in order to keep infection risk low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all dental offices follow these guidelines:
- Calling patients before their appointment to ask about their health status
- Requiring patients and staff to wear facial coverings inside the office
- Recommending, if possible, the patient visit alone
- Temperature check patients upon arrival
- Encourage social distancing
- Making sure their dental staff are wearing the appropriate PPE during appointments
If your dental office is following these guidelines and regularly cleaning their facility, then you should feel comfortable going to your regular checkups.
Should I go to the dentist for non-urgent appointments?
If there is something about your oral health that is concerning to you, then yes, you should go and see your dentist. Even during COVID-19, non-urgent concerns are still valid and should be looked at and taken care of. Continue to follow the guidelines on staying safe, and as long as your dentist’s office is doing the same, then it is safe to visit the dentist for non-urgent reasons.
Don’t be afraid to visit your dentist for something that is concerning you. You don’t want to wait until it potentially becomes something more serious.
What kind of cancers can dentists look for?
Alongside cleanings and routine dental work, dentists also conduct an oral cancer screening during visits. The primary type of cancer that they look for is called oral squamous cell carcinoma. It is the most common cancer of the mouth, head, and neck, and can often be detected relatively early by simple examination.
Cancer can present in a variety of different ways and is not always obvious. If the dentist finds something concerning, they will likely recommend a change in habits to alleviate irritation and then have you return for a follow-up appointment in 1-2 weeks. If the abnormality hasn’t healed by then, then your dentist will likely recommend you to a specialist for a biopsy.
Fortunately, this kind of cancer is relatively rare and accounts for less than 5% of cancers in the U.S. It is curable when caught early enough, which is part of why continuing to see your dentist for regular checkups remains important even during COVID-19.