With dental practices seeing ‘emergency cases only,’ what constitutes a dental emergency?

With dental practices seeing ‘emergency cases only,’ what constitutes a dental emergency?

As with most medical practices in America today, the vast majority of dental practices are limiting care to urgent and emergency cases to limit exposure to COVID-19, preserve personal protection equipment (PPE) and reduce the burden on the healthcare system at large.

But as these recommendations and restrictions are put in place, some dental practices might not be sure about what qualifies as urgent and emergency treatment — or what to do once these patients come into their offices.

As you know, oral health is closely connected to overall health. So, if a patient has a dental emergency, the possibility does exist that it is potentially life-threatening and requires immediate attention from a dental professional. Postponing non-essential procedures during this time of social distancing allows dentists to focus on patients who need emergency care during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

If you haven’t already done so, communicate to your patient base that patients should postpone all non-emergency dental examinations, including but not limited to routine cleanings, aesthetic dental procedures and restorative dentistry.

Reserve your appointments for true dental emergencies. These can include people experiencing severe dental pain, those who have dental infection symptoms such as bleeding and swelling and/or those experiencing a dental infection-related fever. Let patients know if they are experiencing any of these symptoms, they should contact your office immediately for an emergency appointment.

If your clinical team needs help determining whether or not a patient’s issue is emergent, consider the following list of questions to ask patients before scheduling an appointment, per American Association of Endodontists President Keith V. Krell:

  • What symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Is your tooth sensitive to hot and cold foods?
  • Are you experiencing bleeding or swelling in your mouth, gums, etc.?
  • On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), how much pain are you experiencing in your tooth?
  • Is the pain spontaneous, constant or provoked by temperature, chewing, etc.?

If a patient’s issue is deemed to be a true dental emergency that needs to be addressed, the following tips can help make sure everyone involved — your clinical team and your patients — stay safe during an appointment.

  • Ask screening questions about travel history and signs or symptoms of infection.
  • If a patient is experiencing signs of acute respiratory illness upon arrival, patient should be given a disposable surgical mask and placed in a single-patient room with the door closed.

For more information on recommendations on managing treatment during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the website of your local state authorities as well as:

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