Why Dentistry Is Essential Care

In their interim guidance dated August 3, 2020, the World Health Organization advised that oral care deemed “routine” or “non-urgent” be delayed until COVID-19 transmissions are significantly reduced. While the ADA strongly disagreed with this recommendation, the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country has left many in the industry wondering whether governmental mandates delaying routine dental care will be put in place once again.

A mandate that delays “non-essential” dental care suggests that the dental practice could be fertile ground for COVID-19 transmission. However, the facts speak otherwise. Since the pandemic began, MDP-supported practices have served hundreds of thousands of patients with no suspected patient-to-team or team-to-patient COVID-19 transmissions in any of our practices. While supported practices have always implemented standard safety protocols, throughout the pandemic they have exercised additional levels of precaution as recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include increased personal protective equipment for both clinical and non-clinical team members, screening of patients and team members for COVID-19 symptoms, disinfecting and sterilizing surfaces more frequently, and limiting seating in our welcome areas.

Moreover, delaying dentistry deemed “non-essential” also suggests that this type of care is not as important to a patient’s health and well-being. During the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, this type of care included the treatment of periodontal disease, dental caries, and various other viral, bacterial and fungal diseases. An oral problem that may seem non-essential, such as a cavity, can grow to a much more severe problem if not treated early, leading to more complicated and expensive procedures down the road. Additionally, as these conditions escalate, patients turn to emergency rooms for treatment during a period of time when the healthcare system needs to be focused on caring for COVID-19 patients.

Delaying treatment for many oral conditions can be severely detrimental to a patient’s overall health. For example, “routine” dental care that was suspended earlier in the year also included screening for oral cancer and oral manifestations of other systemic diseases. The Osteopathic Family Physician provides a list of diseases with oral manifestations (see Table 1, page 21). These diseases may initially present in the oral cavity, but are connected to the overall systemic health of our patients. Some emerging research even suggests a link between gingival disease and COVID-19 mortality. 

Early detection of many oral diseases can often be a matter of life and death. As ADA President Chad P. Gehani, D.D.S. so correctly declared, “Dentistry is essential health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.” Dentistry should never be deemed non-essential.