Should I go to my dentist appointment today?
March 17, 2020 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I have a cavity. It's been brewing for a while now, but I don't have dental insurance so I put off doing anything about it. Two days ago, the pain started to ramp up when I'm eating or brushing/flossing. I called the dentist yesterday and they were able to get me in today. I don't feel sick. But someone's hands will be in my mouth—certainly that goes against social distancing protocol!

I don't want to be an asshole here. I'm also nervous that we'll go in full lockdown, my tooth will abscess, and I'll have to go the (potentially) overstretched ER. I'm in Pittsburgh, if that matters. Just a few confirmed cases of coronavirus right now, but I know that could change quickly. Definitely worst-case scenario-ing here, but...
posted by gold bridges to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also nervous that we'll go in full lockdown, my tooth will abscess, and I'll have to go the (potentially) overstretched ER.

This is the correct math to be doing. Your dentist will be masked and gloved. 100% I would go today and get this taken care of in what are the optimal circumstances for where we are today.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:45 AM on March 17, 2020 [96 favorites]

I would go—this isn’t a checkup, this is a problem that needs attention now. Ask the dental office about their COVID-19 procedures and if you feel uncomfortable with their response, don’t go. I think you’re right to imagine that if you don’t address it now, it could get worse and that could be bad timing in this environment.
posted by kapers at 7:47 AM on March 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

My girlfriend is a dental hygienist. She and her office are wrestling with plans during this crisis. They've come to the conclusion that they'll forego procedures that are elective and/or routine, but will continue to see emergency cases and cases involving pain. That includes cases like yours.

While everyone at her office is understandably concerned, they're also medical professionals. They're trained to deal with situations like this.

Your best course of action is to call your dentist and explain the situation. Let them make the determination. I suspect they'll ask you to come in.
posted by jdroth at 7:49 AM on March 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

You are correct in your math. This is an emergency, or at least urgent, situation.

For comparison, I'm cancelling my scheduled, regular allergy doc appt tomorrow.
posted by notsnot at 7:53 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

My periodontist has closed his office for a few weeks, so that is a thing that is happening.

Honestly, I agree with those above who think that you should take the chance to get this attended to before it becomes a full-blown dental emergency. As you say, you may end up in a situation where the only help for that is the ER.
posted by thelonius at 7:59 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I might add that the high proportion of elderly patients probably played a role in my office's decision.
posted by thelonius at 8:00 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Excellent answers so far—thank you. Not that any answers suggested this, but I want to clarify that I'm not particularly worried about my own health. I'm much more concerned that I already have this thing and am asymptomatic, and by going out to the dentist I accidentally worsen the spread.

In other words, I'm aiming for the least-selfish option here. Sounds like that option might be getting this taken care of.
posted by gold bridges at 8:05 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

In other words, I'm aiming for the least-selfish option here.

Apologies for stating the obvious. Your dentist can't handle COVID-19 cases, but the ER can. Hence, minimizing selfishness is avoiding the potential of overstretching an ER with non-COVID-19 cases.

If you're comfortable with going to the dentist (which seems to be the case) and if your dentist is still open (which seems to be the case), it seems clear to me that you should go to the dentist. Dentists are doctors who are able to evaluate medical risks and take commensurate precautions. If they're willing to do it, you should take them up on the offer.
posted by saeculorum at 8:11 AM on March 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

FWIW, as another Pittsburgh person who's familiar with the situation on the ground right now - in my home we're cancelling elective/routine medical stuff but moving ahead with situations that involve pain or emergent care, and in your shoes I'd go. I'd call ahead to ask if there are any special precautions they want you to take, but I'd go.
posted by Stacey at 8:14 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would go, although I think dentists may stay open in a lockdown (we're under lockdown in the Bay Area, but essential services like dentists are still open. However, I think they're canceling non-urgent appointments).
posted by pinochiette at 8:21 AM on March 17, 2020

The dentist is a health care professional and has decided that your case should be seen despite the risks. Trust them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:23 AM on March 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Your dentist was set up to avoid getting viruses long before this. Trust them to take care of themselves.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:28 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

The dentist knows how to protect themselves, their staff, and you from getting infected. An untreated abscess is a horrible thing to have to deal with. (I've been there.) Trust them. Go in and get this taken care of.
posted by nangar at 8:41 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Your dentist's surgery is likely to be one of the most sterile places you could visit at the moment. They'll be fully masked and gloved. Everything will be scrupulously clean. You will not come into contact with bare skin.

This is much safer than you having to go to the ER with an abscessed tooth. This is Self Care 101.
posted by essexjan at 8:46 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

We all should be practicing social distancing by reducing our exposure to others to a minimum so that essential things can be taken care of with less risk.

Your health care is one of the essential things.

Please take care of yourself. Your medical condition requires treatment. If you have an acute health crisis, you will involve more people, more contacts and may require hospital space, etc. Please go.
posted by jclarkin at 8:48 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I currently work in a public health dental clinic. I would urge you to keep your appointment. We are indeed fully prepared to avoid the spread of infectious disease. It's part of our daily routine. we are currently considering rescheduling routine cleanings and other "elective " procedures while we assess our supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), but we have decided that for now, we will continue to treat active oral disease, cavities, abscesses, oral lesions and so forth. One of my assistants said "decay never sleeps", so yeah, for now we don't want any current condition to get worse since the future is uncertain.
I would add that we are asking patients to come to their appointments alone,if they can, to limit extra bodies in the waiting areas and operatories.

Other than that we are actively trying to reassure our community that we will be here for emergencies during this crisis.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:07 AM on March 17, 2020 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the (unanimous!) responses, everyone. I will definitely be going to get this taken care of today.
posted by gold bridges at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Don't be shy about discussing disinfecting procedures with the dentist. feel better soon.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2020

Ask your dentist to call you when ready while you wait in your car or outside. If you don't have a mask, put a clean scarf over mouth and nose while you pass through waiting room. Thank you for thinking of others.
posted by Elsie at 11:03 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had to go in for an emergency root canal last Wednesday, the country (NL) went into self-isolation on Friday. So I'm currently very glad I went, being pain free at the moment. I was also very impressed with the way they handled it at the dentist, the assistant was wiping all surfaces down between patients, we were asked to sit a few meters apart in the waiting area, all non-urgent appointments were cancelled, and they were all wearing more protective gear than usual. I imagine this has been ramped up even more in the week since. Very surreal though, we were all still a bit in the 'haha, look at us' stage and then pretty much the next day things took a bad turn.
posted by mirthe at 1:47 AM on March 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

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