Q: I have put off seeing the dentist during the pandemic. Is it safe to go to the dentist now?

A: Many people have delayed or canceled dental appointments during the pandemic for fear of catching the virus. It is understandable, considering you will have to remove your mask for the examination. It has now been a full year of the pandemic, and dental cleanings are usually recommended every 6 months. For those who have been putting this off, it is time to make sure your dental health is a priority.

Dental health in important at every age, but especially for older adults. Older adults tend to have dry mouth as a side effect of many medications. Dry mouth reduces saliva which acts as a protective factor in your mouth. With reduced saliva there is an increased risk for cavities. 

Statistics show that 2 out of every 3 older adults have some level of gum disease. Gum disease does not show symptoms until it is very severe, and at that point can lead to bleeding gums, chewing problems, and tooth loss. Regular cleanings and check ups can prevent gum disease from occurring. Once someone experiences tooth loss or other pain in the gums, it can lead to poor nutrition because it may cause the person to restrict their eating for fear of the pain.

Inflammation caused by gum disease can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Our body’s systems are all connected, and oral health is a key system to maintain since it is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts.

If you care for someone who has memory problems, they may forget to take care when brushing their teeth. You may need to brush side by side with them to act as an example and reminder of what to do. If that is still not enough guidance you can put your hand on top of their hand and gently show them what to do.

Call your dental office and ask them about their COVID-19 protocol so that you can ensure you feel comfortable with their precautions. It should include a pre-visit screening for any symptoms. Often, they are asking patients to wait in the car and call when you arrive. This means you will not have to wait in a waiting room. 

While you will have to remove your mask for the visit, the dentist and dental hygienist will wear a mask and face shield. This provides you additional protection.

Visiting the dentist is not without risks of COVID-19. However, a survey by the American Dental Association indicated that less than one percent of dentists nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19. This is due in part to the safety policies and disinfectant practices dental offices have had in place since before the pandemic.

You must consider both the risks and benefits and make the best decision for your overall health. Talk to your dentist about your dental and health risk factors. Also consider if you have received the vaccine and are protected with both doses. Our health will not wait until the pandemic ends, and neither should your preventative health appointments.  

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org


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