The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued interim guidance on providing essential oral health services in the context of COVID-19, advocating that preventive dental care be delayed until there has been sufficient reduction in transmission rates.
The American Dental Association (ADA); Delta Dental Plans Association (39 member companies); Northeast Delta Dental; the Boards of Dental Examiners in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and other dental industry leaders at the state and national levels respectfully disagree with WHO’s position on preventive care during the current health crisis.
The WHO is a worldwide organization. Its interim guidance does not account for differences in safety practices and equipment around the world. In the United States, the ADA did recommend in March that dental practices suspend preventive care and focus on emergency procedures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and alleviate the burden that dental emergencies would place on hospital emergency departments.
Thereafter, the ADA, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), developed rigorous safety, equipment and practice protocols designed to protect patients, dentists and dental auxiliary staff. In each state, local Boards of Dental Examiners presented these protocols to state reopening taskforces for recommendation to, and approval by, state government. State governments only permitted dental offices to reopen for preventive care when they were satisfied that dental offices could do so safely.
Dental offices are again open and providing a full range of dental services that are critical to the health and well-being of their patients. They follow safety protocols that are much more rigorous than usual, though dental offices are safety-conscious in the best of times. Many thousands of people nationwide have received routine dental procedures in the last few months without incident. The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) will document this more fully in an article in its upcoming issue.
On the topic of its interim guidance, one of WHO’s dental officers was quoted as saying, “We think that the most pressing issue is related to the availability of essential personal protective equipment, PPE, for all health care personnel undertaking or assisting in the clinical procedures.” We agree. That’s why Northeast Delta Dental has distributed tens of thousands of masks and thousands of gowns to our network dentists and is helping them with the ongoing costs of PPE and other COVID-19 expenses.
As they plan their next visits, we encourage patients to contact their dentists to learn more about specific protocols in place for health and safety. Dental professionals are on the front lines of health care, with their expertise often detecting, and/or impacting, such diseases as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Let’s not limit our healthcare system’s ability to treat the whole patient by discouraging people from visiting their dentists, when both national and state public health authorities have determined that they can do so safely.
Tom Raffio, President & CEO Northeast Delta Dental