ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) - While much of the focus during the pandemic has been on medical health, dental health is often overlooked.
However, the World Health Organization is asking people to avoid routine dental work in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The American Dental Association disagrees with the WHO and says missing those appointments could lead to even worse problems, for both patients and the healthcare system as a whole.
"From the day we closed, we were getting calls from people who were in excruciating pain," said Dr. Shivan Nelson, dentist at Community Dental Care. "If left uncared for, they would end up in the emergency room."
Dental offices have since reopened following the shutdown with new precautions in place to prevent the spread of germs.
"Dentistry has always done a really good job of that but there were some additional measures we had to take," Nelson said. "The biggest concern is the control of dental aerosols."
Aerosol particles can transmit coronavirus. Now, dental practices are using technology to eliminate this and keep patients and staff safe.
"[We] implemented a needle-point bipolar ionization system in our HVAC system that helps eliminates germs in the air basically. We've also implemented the use of external dental suction units," said Casey Berge, director at Apple Tree Dental. "They sit above the patients mouth and grab any aerosols lingering in the air after an aerosol producing procedure."
The safety measures are both time-consuming and costly.
"Every time a new patient comes in, the gowns are changed," Berge said. "Those are things we didn't have to do in the past. In general, the expenses have increased greatly."
Despite World Health Organization concerns, dentists advise people to stay on top of their oral health.
"With dental disease, it only gets worse without treatment," Nelson said. "Something that could be a small cavity treated with a filling could turn into a dental abscess or infection and become more of an emergency."
"Just delaying that for a few months can be detrimental to the tooth health and put patients in a bad spot," agrees Brianna Jensch, community care coordinator at Apple Tree Dental.
The dentists point out that problems with oral health can create complications elsewhere in the body. They hope to treat patients in their buildings instead of those patients overwhelming emergency rooms.
Most Rochester dental practices offer virtual visits for those who still do not feel comfortable seeing the dentist in person.