Experts say dental offices have had safety procedures in place for decades. Morsa Images/Getty Images
  • A new survey by the American Dental Association indicates that less than 1 percent of dentists nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Experts say that’s because of safety policies and disinfectant practices dental offices have had for decades.
  • Experts add that dental health is important not only for your teeth but also because dental infections can lead to other ailments, including heart disease.

Even during a pandemic, it’s still safe to go to the dentist.

That’s what the American Dental Association is telling the public.

The organization published a study today that reports that less than 1 percent of dentists nationwide have been found to be COVID-19 positive, which is far less than that of other health professionals.

The report includes data from nearly 2,200 dentists surveyed in June 2020. It’s the first of its kind to show U.S. dentists’ COVID-19 rates as well as safety practices. 

These findings come after dentistry was flagged as a COVID-19 high-risk profession. 

The majority of dentists (82 percent) reported being asymptomatic one month prior to the remote survey. Close to 17 percent said they had a COVID-19 test.

“The study brings us another step forward in understanding what works,” Marcelo Araujo, DDS, MS, PhD, American Dental Association Science and Research Institute chief executive officer and a senior author of the report, said in a press release.

“Dentists are following ADA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, and it’s helping to keep the dental team and their patients as safe as possible,” Araujo added.

The CDC guidelines include safety measures ranging from proper hand hygiene to sterilization and disinfecting patient-care items and devices.

The study is ongoing and will include data from dental hygienists.

What experts have to say

“The fact that dentistry was named one of the most at-risk professions for infection, but has a far lower prevalence of infection compared to other health professions, is not a coincidence,” Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist and vice president of the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, said in a press release.

“The profession has taken this issue extremely seriously, and it shows,” he added. “We will continue to track the rate of COVID-19 among dentists and other facets of the pandemic affecting dentistry so it can help inform the dental profession and other industries as well.”

Dr. Edgar Herrera Sanchez, an infectious disease specialist with Orlando Health in Florida, said he’s not surprised with the study’s findings.

“[Dentists] already do a lot of things that prevent the spread of COVID,” Sanchez told Healthline. “So I want to provide a lot of reassurance. If there is a risk of transmission, the person most at risk would be the dentist — not the patient.”

“The dentist is already wearing a mask, already wearing eye gear, gloves, all those things, so his risk of him giving something to you would be very low,” Sanchez added.

Joel Gould, DDS, has been a practicing dentist for 30 years. 

“It’s great to have data to confirm what we expected,” he told Healthline. “Dentists are experts in infection control and have been using universal precautions since the mid-80s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” 

“Dental hygienists are highly qualified allied healthcare workers and maintain some of the highest standards of care around,” Gould added.

According to Gould, dentists have always been sensitive to infection control and have been pioneers when it comes to using “universal precautions.” 

“This system of assuming everyone we see is contagious, or infective, makes sense because many infections are not visible, like hepatitis and HIV,” he explained.

Why you need to see a dentist

Dental care is healthcare and experts agree any negligence can have consequences. 

According to the CDC, the top three oral conditions that impact overall health and quality of life are tooth decay (cavities), severe gum disease, and severe tooth loss.

Sanchez said periodontal dental disease can cause:

  • heart infection
  • lung infection
  • aspiration
  • localized damage to mouth and teeth

“I’m an infectious disease person. I see the ramifications of not getting good dental care, including things like endocarditis,” said Sanchez.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says endocarditis is an infection caused by bacteria being introduced into the bloodstream. 

Bacteria can enter the bloodstream as a result of poor dental hygiene or improper brushing that leads to gum and mouth injury. 

“People with some heart conditions have a greater risk of developing it,” according to the AHA.

“So I really advocate you should get all dental work as well as all healthcare,” said Sanchez. “You should not delay because of this virus.”

“Expecting that this virus could go on for a couple of years, you really can’t hold off dentistry or dental needs that long,” he added. 

“Unfortunately, many of my elderly patients have been fearful of coming in,” noted Gould. “The question is how long that elective work will take to become an emergency.”

“Some have put off their dental treatment, which over time has negatively progressed and is potentially more damaging long term than a viral infection,” he added.

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