Although New York State mandates continue to limit dental treatment to emergency procedures, dental practices are among the “essential” businesses that may re-open first once restrictions begin to relax. In either case – while provisions allow only emergency care or upon return to more normal operations – the American Dental Association (ADA) has issued Interim Mask and Face Shield Guidelines to protect the safety of patients, dentists and staff as long as COVID-19 infection remains a risk. It reminds dentists that “asymptomatic healthy appearing patients cannot be assumed to be [virus] free.”

An ADA News story says the purpose of the organization’s interim guidance is to “help dentists minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission when seeing patients by using the appropriate PPE.” Specifically, says ADA News, “Dentists are urged to use the highest level of PPE available when treating patients to reduce the risk of exposure. If masks and either goggles or face shields are not available, there is a higher risk for infection; therefore, the use of professional judgment is key along with knowing the patient’s risk factors.”

In an April 18 press release about the Guidelines, the ADA reminded dentists that the intent of the original recommendation to provide only emergency care was to “conserve essential personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical frontline colleagues,” a need that may still exist in many states, including New York. However, as practices in all states begin to prepare for an eventual return to more standard dental care, they’ll have to do so while mitigating the spread of the virus at the same time.

The ADA, as stated in the press release, defers to “local and state health departments, state dental societies and, in some cases, large urban local dental societies” regarding “disease transmission rates and conditions” and suggests that – even when bans on elective dental care are lifted – “dentists should exercise professional judgment and carefully consider the availability of appropriate PPE to minimize risk of virus transmission.” In the meantime, the ADA says it is advocating that “dentists, as essential healthcare workers, are prioritized for PPE.”

MLMIC will continue to monitor developments in mandates related to the provision of dental care in New York State. For all COVID-19-related developments, please visit MLMIC’s dedicated resources page.