Dental groups in Washington are working to spread the word that dentists are available – but only for emergency care or urgent needs.
Dental experts in Spokane and around Washington have set up websites and other resources to help people with toothaches, and other oral health problems, determine whether their problem is an emergency and how to get treatment during the state’s stay-at-home order.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s order halted medical procedures that do not require immediate attention and that, if delayed, will not cause harm to patients.
The order, however, does not apply to dental emergencies and urgent dental issues.
Smile Spokane, a local oral health network, is helping patients identify if their dental problem is an emergency, an urgent situation or can wait to be treated until after the order is lifted. Info: smilespokane.org/covid-19/
“We are trying to help people understand what a dental emergency is,” said Elisabeth Warder, a member of Smile Spokane and dental director at CHAS Health. She said the group is “trying to encourage people to first reach out to their dental provider” if they have an emergency.
If they do need to see a dentist, the site provides a link to DentistLink – a contact list of offices around the state open for emergency care. The American Dental Association classifies a dental emergency as life-threatening or requiring immediate attention. Urgent dental care emphasizes the management of conditions that can result in a dental emergency.
Approximately 88.4% of dental offices in Washington are closed but seeing emergency patients only, said Bracken Killpack, executive director of the Washington State Dental Association.
“Our state’s dentists are doing everything they can to ensure patients with urgent dental needs are getting the care they need,” Killpack said.
In the last two weeks, 557 people have called, texted or gone online to use DentistLink for a referral, said Svea Stromme, senior program manager at Arcora Foundation, of Delta Dental of Washington, which hosts DentalLink.
“When people call or use the website there’s a lot fear of, ‘What can I do now? And who can see me?’ ” Stromme said. “People haven’t been sure where they can turn to.”
Warder, of CHAS Health, is providing consultations by phone and videoconference. For her patients whose cases are not classified as a dental emergency or urgent dental care, she is prescribing medication to defer care for now.
“One of the biggest pushes in this work is to make sure that people can find care without having to go to the emergency room right now. We want to reserve those spots for people that need them,” Stromme said.
Both dentists and patients worry about contracting the coronavirus during a dental procedure, Warder said.
“There’s fear on both sides,” Warder said. “Patients are fearful to go out into the community. Dentists are working really hard to flatten the curve, and they don’t want to potentially contract the virus or spread it to their patients.”
Khadija Islow works for Medill News Service.
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