Quarantine May Complicate Oral Health Diagnoses

July 17, 2020
Avatar for Donald GriswoldDonald Griswold

Amid the COVID-19 quarantine, many businesses – including dental practices – have been forced to close, albeit temporarily, while state and local governments attempt to slow the spread of the deadly pandemic.

This means that many people’s oral health needs may be forced to go unfulfilled while they wait for their clinic to reopen, and this has a lot of dental practitioners very concerned.

Dr. Kelley Mingus of Bend, Oregon, says that when time is of the essence in many dental procedures, waiting that extra few weeks or months could be very detrimental to oral and even overall health.

For example, in Ireland, reports have surfaced of cases of oral cancers going undiagnosed because people with cancer and its related symptoms are unable to visit their dentist. This poses a problem because the longer oral cancer goes untreated, the higher the likelihood it will worsen. Currently, oral cancer is very treatable and often only requires surgery to remove. The survival rate for this disease in Ireland is 90 percent, and it is equally high around the world with early diagnosis and treatment.

But cancer isn’t the only concern. Even cavities and gum disease diagnoses may be shuttered for the time being due to the coronavirus closures, and this too could be putting patients at a high risk for worsening damage. Coupled with the fact that many patients are simply too afraid of leaving quarantine to attend a dental appointment, and, according to Mingus, you’ve got a perfect storm of oral health crises.

In an attempt to curb at least some of these issues, some dentists have begun telehealth visits, but as one can imagine, this type of visit is not particularly effective when it comes to oral health. Dentists are limited to what they can see on screen in a patient’s mouth, and they cannot conduct in-person exams or cleanings, though they can discuss symptoms and recommend in-person treatment. Still, some patients would rather skip the video visit and just wait for the real thing, especially if they’re paying out of pocket.

Mingus, for his part, recommends patients go straight to the source and schedule an in-person exam if there is a persistent oral health problem, such as pain, bleeding or a sore that will not go away.

“Speak to your dentist,” he says. “If they’re not able to take you for an appointment, they may be able to recommend someone else who is. Never put off caring for your oral health, especially if there’s a problem.”