Column

Oliver: Skipping the dentist despite having a toothache? Is COVID-19 really to blame?

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Every now and then I encounter a news release that makes me stop and shake my head. Trust me, I get a lot of email, and most of it could be considered spam even if it does try to masquerade as news releases. These days, most of the email I get about the pandemic clearly is laughable or just come-ons.

Yet, every now and then I see a statistic that gets me thinking about how folks are coping (or not) with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent survey, conducted by a denture company, found that 1 in 4 Illinoisans would rather endure a toothache than visit a dentist during the pandemic. The survey questioned 4,200 people across the country to find out how people were dealing with their dental health during this challenging situation.

Now, as one of the most risk-averse people I know, I can sort of understand this. Or at least I could at the beginning of the pandemic, when there was a lot of uncertainty out there about how the virus was spread and the like.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the guidance on whether we’re safe to go back to the dentist from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t always been in sync.

Still, one thing that those health organizations agree upon is that having a toothache would constitute a situation that would make it OK to go to the dentist. I believe they would consider that an “urgent” or “emergency” situation.

Part of the problem, and one that the survey never really addresses, is that a lot of people probably would be loath to go to the dentist even in pre-pandemic times. These would be the same people who would suffer with a toothache even when there wasn’t a virus to blame for not going.

That said, the CDC does urge caution when going for routine cleanings depending on the situation in the area. As in, if there are a lot of cases in your area, perhaps it would be a good idea to postpone that trip to dentist. Happily, we’re not in that situation at the moment. Let’s keep it that way.

When I went to the dentist at the end of July, I was leery but still felt that I’d be OK. My dentist’s office was pretty thorough in laying out what steps it was taking to keep everyone safe.

What I found was an office that was more than up to the task of keeping patients safe. My usual hygienist was wearing protective gear from head to toe, my temperature was checked first thing and I had to verify that I hadn’t been exposed to the virus. Then there were even more steps before I even got to sit in the chair.

The thought that kept going through my mind is that I’m sure the office staff was more concerned about me infecting them than I was of being infected by any of them. That’s why, one week after I went to the dentist, I was able to take Tony for his routine cleaning. If you know me, you know I do everything in my power to keep my husband with Alzheimer’s safe.

So it baffles me that the survey also found that almost 1 in 10 people admitted that they would consider removing a tooth themselves rather than see a dentist during the pandemic.

Of course, we all have to weigh our own comfort level with this virus. Still, this isn’t something we should skip lightly.

Yet, for a lot of people the dentist is a source of fear even in the best of times. So, I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised that there are those who would rather suffer with a toothache.

But, seriously, can all of them really say COVID-19 is entirely to blame?

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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