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COVID-19 concerns could affect your visit to the doctor or dentist

Last Updated Mar 10, 2020 at 10:53 am PDT

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Virus-worries have spread through local doctors and dentists' offices around B.C. and beyond

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, a trip to your local doctor or dentist's office may look a little different

Doctors and dentists in B.C. warn some treatments or procedures could be delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –┬áVirus worries that have spread through local doctors and dentists’ offices could impact your treatment.

“Our biggest concern is that we could have people who are ill, coughing and not self-isolating or taking appropriate precautions to protect people in their immediate area,” says Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of BC.

Signs are up at most clinics and family physicians’ offices, offering guidance to patients.

“If patients are sick, we would like them to stay home and self-isolate if their symptoms are mild. If they are feeling more than mildly ill, they can call ahead to their family doctor to receive further instructions or call 811 to be appropriately triaged for assessment,” she tells NEWS 1130.

“We really do want people to exercise good hygiene to protect everyone around us. Wash your hands regularly, cough into a tissue or your elbow, make sure you’re not touching your face. If you’re sick, stay home, take time from work and speak to a health care provider to ensure we can keep everyone healthy.”

Meanwhile, a shortage of protective equipment is forcing dental offices to make some changes as concerns about COVID-19 ramp up.

“We are asking people — if they have routine dental visits coming up and they have symptoms, have travelled to one of the affected areas or are living in close contact with somebody who has — to phone the dental office and talk about whether it’s wise for them to proceed or whether their routine care should simply be rescheduled for a couple weeks later when they are feeling better,” says Alastair Nicoll, who speaks for the BC Dental Association.

He adds receptionists have also been asked to phone patients and screen them ahead of time for flu-like symptoms.

Things get trickier if someone who is infected needs an emergency dental procedure. While that is a seemingly rare situation, Nicoll says there are some serious considerations.

“We’re talking about someone who has an acute infection, a bunch of swelling and is in considerable pain or maybe somebody involved in an accident who has knocked out or broken a bunch of teeth. Those are the sort of things we can’t put off.”

However, emergency dental procedures involve suction and rotary tools like drills, which can cause a fine spray.

“Once you create an aerosol with the virus in the mouth, then the risk increases. Under those circumstances, the caregivers need to be suited up with protective equipment such as eye protection, disposable gowns and an N-95 mask,” Nicoll explains.

The problem is, most dental offices are experiencing a drastic shortage of N-95 masks amid coronavirus concerns.

“Unless that protective equipment is available on site, surgical interventions such as extractions, root canal treatments and that sort of thing are not going to be possible during a respiratory tract infection.”

In that case, Nicoll says it may be possible the patient can be helped along with pain killers or antibiotics for a couple of weeks.

“If the patient needs an operative treatment right away, then we need to come up with places to do that. At the moment, we have asked that dental offices get in touch with their local emergency room to see if they can accommodated the patient under these circumstances.”

The BC Dental Association will be sending a memo to members this week to remind dentists to be aware of proper procedures during a virus outbreak.

“We’ve been through this before,” says Nicoll. “H1N1 wasn’t too long ago and every year there are respiratory tract infections like influenza. Dental offices are used to the fact that under these circumstances, treatment can be delayed.”

-With files from Kelvin Gawley and Kathryn Tindale