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Postpone routine dental cleanings, check-ups to prevent COVID-19, WHO urges

The American Dental Association said it 'respectfully yet strongly disagrees' with the WHO's recommendation to postpone routine dental cleanings and check-ups.

The World Health Organization is urging the public to avoid routine dental work or aesthetic treatments during the coronavirus pandemic if transmission rates are high in their area. It says the nature of such visits to the dentist can increase the risk of spreading the virus

"WHO advises that routine non-essential oral health care – which usually includes oral health check-ups, dental cleanings and preventive care – be delayed until there has been sufficient reduction in COVID-19 transmission rates from community transmission to cluster cases or according to official recommendations at national, sub-national or local level," the agency said in guidance released Aug. 3.

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WHO said urgent or emergency care should not be postponed because doing so can lead to more severe health issues.

In response, the American Dental Association "respectfully yet strongly" disagreed with the WHO's recommendation.

"Oral health is integral to overall health. Dentistry is essential health care,” ADA President Dr. Chad P. Gehani said “Dentistry is essential health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.” 

Dr. Gehani added that both the ADA and CDC have issued interim guidance for dentists to use the "highest level of PPE available" when with patients. 

“Millions of patients have safely visited their dentists in the past few months for the full range of dental services. With appropriate PPE, dental care should continue to be delivered during global pandemics or other disaster situations,” Dr. Gehani stated. 

Because patients and dental workers are often in close facial proximity and because dentists are regularly in contact with patient saliva during exams, the likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus increases, the WHO said. Also, dentists use tools -- such as air/water syringes and scalers -- that could cause infected particles to spread.

The WHO urges dentists and patients to conduct screenings remotely or online before appointments. Dentists are also asked to use social media and other remote communication to encourage good oral hygiene.

Dental workers are urged to use Personal Protective Equipment during appointments and to thoroughly clean exam areas after seeing each patient. Dentists are also encouraged by WHO to ask patients to rinse their mouths with 1% hydrogen peroxide or 0.2% povidone iodine before exams to reduce "salivary load of oral microbes."

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for up to three weeks. Some may show no symptoms. But older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.