Is It Safe to Delay Dental Care?

young woman on smartphone

By Dr. Lisa Berens, DDS, MPH
Chair of the Division of Oral Epidemiology and Dental Public Health, Chair of the Summer Research Fellowship Program, and professor at UCSF School of Dentistry

Chances are your oral health hasn’t been a top priority for you during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe you missed your regular six-month dental cleaning. Maybe you’ve been putting off a cavity filling, chipped or broken a tooth, or maybe your dental needs are more severe.   

But is it safe to delay your dental care because of COVID-19? The answer is no — you may be putting your oral and overall health at increased risk by delaying needed or preventive dental care, especially because of the pandemic.  

Today, prevention is more important than ever when it comes to oral health since we know that waiting to treat teeth until a problem arises may require more extensive procedures including those that generate aerosols, which will only increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Aerosols are particles too small to see with the naked eye. These particles are small enough that they can float in the air (at distances up to many feet) and for a period of time (up to many hours) before settling on surfaces.  

Aerosol-generating procedures are more likely to produce higher concentrations of infectious respiratory aerosols than coughing, sneezing, talking, or breathing – which can put health care staff and others at an increased risk for exposure and infection of the virus.

You should take care of your dental needs now, while they are still minor. Continue with preventive practices, like dental cleanings, as usual so you don’t need more extensive restorative work in the future. Dental experts recommend no longer putting off your dental care needs. You should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as you can.  

If you have a more serious problem (that may generate aerosols when treating), you should come in right away. UCSF Dentistry is following all required federal, state and local health care guidelines to ensure you receive safe and effective care. We have installed plastic barriers at check-in desks, dividers between bays, and physical distancing reminders. We have reduced the number of staff and patients in our clinics, we require everyone to wear masks, we perform COVID-19 screening and testing, and we rigorously clean and disinfect our clinics. In addition, air ventilation at the General Dentistry Student Clinic (707 Parnassus Ave.) has been deemed low-risk for airborne transmission of the virus given the building’s once-thru air supply in open spaces. As an extra precaution, HEPA air filtration systems will be procured for procedures performed in closed room settings.