Is it safe to go to the dentist during COVID-19 outbreak?

Investigations

ROUND ROCK (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday ordered health care professionals in Texas to postpone elective surgeries for one month.

The new order includes dentists telling them to delay non-emergency procedures until April 21, “all licensed health care professionals and facilities to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately, medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient who without immediate performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death.”

Forest Family Dentistry in Round Rock made the call to close last week. Dr. Robin Bethell says five of their offices including in Austin were impacted.

The decision was made after the American Dental Association released recommendations to postpone elective procedures.

“Concentrating on emergency dental care will allow us to care for our emergency patients and alleviate the burden that dental emergencies would place on hospital emergency departments,” says Bethell. “It’s the right thing to do, and we really want to take care of our team members, families first, our community and we want to be here when this all gets better.”

“Since the Governor is addressing a shortage of hospital capacity, it is imperative that dental clinicians care for emergency patients in a timely manner rather than referring them to emergency facilities,” said the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners on its website. “The governor also pointed out in his comments that violation of executive orders could lead to potential fines and even jail time for those who do not comply.”

Dr. Boyd Bush, Executive Director of TSBDE told KXAN News last Tuesday that the agency was working closely with the Office of the Governor and that it was up to each dentist to stay open or close.

Bush told KXAN investigative reporter Arezow Doost that precautions that are recommended were already taking place: including using gloves, wearing masks and disinfecting.

KXAN started asking questions after a tip from an employee worried to go to work at her dental office. She says without a mandate dental workers are put at risk. 

While some dental practices started closing before the new guidance, others started taking extra precautions as dentists waited for more direction.

“We are currently asking all patients who have symptoms — or are in high risk categories — to reschedule their appointments,” wrote Barton Oaks Dental Group to patients before Sunday’s executive order. “For everyone else, we will not only be asking for patients to self-screen, but we will be taking every employee’s and patient’s temperature and monitoring all health-related symptoms throughout the day.”

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