Oral and Dental Care Guidance

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and Your Oral Health

Staying safe means staying at home. Be sure to make time for healthy activities like exercising, eating well, relaxing, connecting with family and friends on the phone or computer, and maintaining your oral health! These actions keep you and your immune system healthy.

When can dental offices resume all services?

A date has not yet been determined and will be based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing, as well as the burden of COVID-19 illness will be key factors in making a decision.

Why is it recommended to postpone routine or elective care?

Many dental procedures produce an aerosol. When this occurs in patients with COVID-19, there is risk of spread to dental office staff and patients. This measure supports recommendations to stay-at-home and conserves masks and other PPE for urgent procedures and front-line health care workers.

What is aerosol and how does it relate to COVID-19 and dental care?

  • Aerosol is a spray. During some dental care procedures, such as cleanings and fillings, create a fine mist or spray of water/ dental material and saliva particles that are released into the air. 
  • COVID-19 is thought to be transmitted through respiratory droplets. When someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, or speaks, particles or saliva droplets containing the virus may be transmitted to another person or a surface!
  • Virus material has been found to exist in saliva, but further research is needed to understand ways to minimize risk.

Need a Visual?

Watch the following video: If Saliva Were Red

The 8 minute video is a popular training and compliance reinforcement tool that teaches proper infection control technique through a graphic filmed demonstration in which the patient's "saliva" contains red dye so that droplets, spray, and cross-contaminated surfaces can clearly be seen. You may use this video as a visual of how easily saliva can spread and contaminate many surfaces. 

What can I do?

Oral health should be a priority. There is a lot you can do through simple day-to-day habits.

  • Brush twice daily for two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste
  • Properly floss and brush/clean your tongue once daily
  • Never share a toothbrush!
  • Change your toothbrush every 3 months or sooner if you are sick
  • Drink plenty of fluoridated water
  • Limit starchy or sugary foods and drinks
  • Resist unhealthy habits to manage stress (smoking, consuming alcohol, biting fingernails)

If your gums bleed while brushing or flossing, continue to brush and floss gently and thoroughly. Often when gum health improves, bleeding decreases. Contact your dentist when COVID-19 restrictions for non-urgent care are lifted.

What should I do if I have dental treatments not completed or care that is in process?

  • For periodontal disease - make sure that you continue to brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. The toothbrush should be angled where the teeth and gums meet. Flossing at least one time per day should also be part of your daily routine. You can add a mouth rinse, such as Listerine or CloSYS, to decrease the number of bacteria in your mouth.
  • For untreated dental cavities - brushing your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing, usuing a fluoridated mouthwash and drinking plenty of water is helpful. To this routine, adding the use of sugar free or xylitol containing gum, eliminating sugar and unhealthy carbohydrate snacks can help stop cavities from developing further.
  • For temporary crowns, temporary fillings, and in process root canal treatments - clean area carefully and avoid chewing gum, chewy/sticky foods and chewing on hard items, such as popcorn or ice chips. It is important to keep your tooth sealed. If you experience any problems, contact your dentist.

What are urgent or emergent needs?

Bleeding, chronic pain or infection, and dental trauma are examples. Denture and some orthodontic issues impacting function may also be considered.

Dental care that should be taken care of by a dentist include:

  • Painful swelling in or around your mouth
  • Pain in a tooth, teeth or jawbone
  • Gum infection with pain, swelling, and heavy bleeding
  • After surgery treatment (dressing change, stitch/suture removal)
  • Broken or knocked-out tooth
  • Denture adjustment for people receiving radiation or other treatment for cancer
  • Snipping or adjusting wire of braces that hurts your cheek or gums
  • Biopsy of abnormal tissue

However, before you go outside the safety of your home:

  1. Contact your regular dentist's office. They should have a plan to refer you for limited care to address urgent issues.
    1. Communicate your problem by:
      • Telephone
      • FaceTime or Skype
      • Texting/ Digital photo sharing
    2. Be prepared to answer questions
      • About fever (have a current temperature reading)
      • Dry cough
      • Trouble Breathing
    3. Accept that in some cases, definitive care may not be safe to provide

Your dentist will be able to provide care to alleviate pain, swelling, or other urgent issues. However, current treatment options may be limited as many treatments aerosolize COVID-19.

How can patients support safety at dental offices?

  • Understand your dentist may need extra measures and more time to keep the office safe, including requiring patients and family to wait in cars and not sit in the waiting room.
  • More PPE and cleaning may be required, which can result in the need for more time between patients.
  • Inform the dental staff if you’ve been sick, been tested for COVID-19, or had recently been quarantined.
  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, do not go to the dentist. Contact your physician who may suggest you be tested.

Are dental offices testing for COVID-19?

  • At the moment dental offices are not testing for COVID-19. However, knowing the COVID-19 status of patients is important for safe care, so testing measures performed by dentists is a goal for the future.


This helpful information was provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

"They sure are handy when you smile. So keep your teeth around a while!" -Dr. Seuss

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