Important Information Regarding COVID-19 from the California Dental Association

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The California Department of Public Health on April 7 released a new directive for dental practices that provides specific guidance about clinical care delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. The guidance directs dentists to suspend providing dental care with the exception of emergencies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

CDA applauds the state action, has strongly advocated for the state to provide clear and specific guidance for dental professionals and the public on protocols that align with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Those federal recommendations indicate that all in-person medical and dental services be limited to only those that are essential.

Until further notice, dentists should be providing only emergency dental care.

The day after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, CDA strongly recommended that California dentists suspend all dental care except for emergency treatment to minimize the risk of virus exposure and to preserve the supply of critical personal protective equipment for health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients.

“As health care professionals, dentists can help ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 by following sound, scientific public health advice to help limit community transmission and slow the spread of infection,” said CDA President Richard Nagy, DDS.

Under the CDPH directive, dentists should “postpone routine procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent dental visits and direct patients to call the office for guidance if they feel they have a dental emergency.” Dentists may only perform procedures that are needed to treat emergencies, such as cellulitis, severe pain, and trauma, and should use their clinical judgment to determine emergency treatment on a case-by-case basis.

Dentists should remain available to their patients of record for emergency care or have arranged coverage with another dentist to provide that care.

Required screening and PPE

The state directive requires patients to be screened for COVID-19 risk or potential exposure prior to entering a dental office. Dentists should instruct patients to call the office if they feel they have a dental emergency to determine the nature of the emergency and the appropriate course of action. The state further outlines the steps to follow and personal protective equipment to utilize for providing emergency dental care to individuals who are not symptomatic for and do not have known exposure to COVID-19 as well as protocols for individuals with known or suspected COVID-19. For all individuals needing emergency care, the directive recommends prioritizing non-aerosol generating options.

CDA worked closely with the state dental director to develop guidance and FAQs for screening, infection control and PPE use consistent with the state guidance at this time for emergency dental care.

Patient notification, resuming routine care

Public service announcements created by CDA are available to dentists for use on their business websites and social media pages to alert patients about office closures, connect them with any needed emergency dental treatment and help them maintain their oral health care during the practice interruption.

Dentists have contacted CDA to inquire about when they might be able to reopen the practice to routine care. The CDPH directive does not have an end date currently, and Gov. Newsom’s stay-home order remains in place with no set expiration date. CDA will notify members when those dates become known and as soon as public health experts determine that dentists can resume their normal business operations.

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