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Coronavirus: WHO advises avoiding dentists’ unless urgent

Patients shouldn’t go to dentist appointments unless they are urgent until the risk factor from coronavirus is better understood, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. 

A WHO dental officer, Benoit Varenne, said the risk posed by procedures used by dentists is too poorly understood for people to start going to non-urgent appointments.

Procedures including air and water sprays, ultrasonic cleaning and polishing could all send coronaviruses airborne out of a patient’s mouth, he said.  

Mr Varienne said: ‘WHO guidance recommends in case of community transmission to give priority to urgent or emergency oral cases, to avoid or minimise procedures that may generate aerosol, prioritise a set of clinical interventions that are performed using an instrument and of course to delay routine non-essential oral health care.’

There is currently no data on how easily coronavirus could spread in a dentist’s chair and many surgeries were closed to all but the most urgent appointments in lockdown in the UK.

The WHO said more research is needed to understand the risk, and that patients and dentists should avoid non-urgent appointments until this is completed. 

Mr Varenne added: ‘The likelihood of COVID-19 being transmitted through aerosol, micro-particles or airborne particles … today I think is unknown, it’s open to question at least. This means that more research is needed.’

The WHO last month released general guidelines on the transmission of the coronavirus which acknowledged some reports of airborne transmission, but stopped short of confirming that the virus spreads through the air.

Dental facilities must have adequate ventilation to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in closed settings, it said on Tuesday.

‘We think that the most pressing issue is related to the availability of essential personal protective equipment, PPE, for all health care personnel undertaking or assisting in the clinical procedures,’ Mr Varenne said.

Dentists in Britain have been allowed to offer non-urgent appointments since June 8 under Government lockdown rules.

They had been permitted to do urgent work throughout lockdown.

But many surgeries face a dramatic change to normality as they welcome patients back.

Sara Hurley, the Chief Dentistry Officer (CDO) for England said in May that dentists need to offer online consultations and surgeries may have to be modified depending on their layout. 

Waiting rooms may need to be partitioned with perspex glass, magazines and children’s toys could be removed, and chairs will need to be set in line with the two-metre rule.   

The British Dental Association (BDA) welcome reopening plans at the time but warned that expectations need to be managed adding that infection control and social distancing could reduce capacity by up to two thirds.

The dental trade union added that the availability of PPE may limit the speed that dental care is restored, with different practices likely to vary.

BDA chair Mick Armstrong said: ‘A return of high street dentistry we will be welcome news to millions of patients left with few options during lockdown, but key questions remain.

‘It is right to allow practices to decide themselves when they are ready to open.

‘Dentists will be keen to start providing care as soon as safely possible, but we will need everyone to be patient as practices get up and running.’   

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