Taking your kids to the dentist twice a year is recommended to make sure their teeth and gums stay healthy, but is going to the dentist safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Gerald Friend and Dr. Jason Havard of Pediatric Dental Group, with offices in North Little Rock and Conway, provided valuable insights.

Should parents postpone regular preventive care for their children? Healthy patients should not postpone preventive care. Children who are medically compromised should consult with their dentist to see if preventive care is appropriate during the pandemic.

What are the risks of postponing or even skipping regular preventive care? Oral health is an integral part of a child's overall health and well-being. The teeth and mouth are important for a child to eat, drink, speak and smile properly. Cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease, and they are largely preventable.

Preventive care appointments, cleaning and X-rays allow early detection and intervention for dental problems. Generally, issues detected early are easier to treat. Cavities in early stages can sometimes be arrested or reversed with hygiene and dietary changes, topical fluoride administration and other measures.

What measures have your practices taken to protect your patients? Many of the infection control protocols you will see in our office today were already in place pre-COVID-19. Masks and gloves have been the norm for dentists and staff for years. Surfaces have always been wiped with hospital grade disinfectants. In our clinics, you will see face shields, high filtration masks and jackets/gowns worn by clinical staff. Plexiglass sneeze guards create a barrier between front office staff and patients. Hand sanitizing stations are appropriately placed and frequently used. Anyone entering our clinics will be screened and denied entry if appropriate.

What are the check-in procedures like? A pre-appointment text is sent to the parent's phone. This text contains COVID-19 screening questions, procedures for arrival, a request for make/model/color of vehicle and instructions for patients whose answers to questions may require further information.

Once a patient arrives, they will call our front desk who notifies their assigned dental assistant. This assistant will meet the patient at their vehicle to take their temperature [and] escort them directly to their treatment room. One parent or caregiver may accompany a child to the treatment room. We ask that other children [those without appointments] not accompany their sibling during an appointment.

How will the appointment be different from previous procedures? Procedures/appointments will be slightly longer. Extra time is needed to properly screen … patients and ensure their safety during appointments.

Any special advice to your patients during the pandemic? The cornerstone of dentistry is prevention. Our patients should focus on the basics of good preventive dentistry to maintain their oral health: brush and floss daily, avoid excess added sugars and see their dental professional for preventive care visits.

With thanks to Delta Dental of Arkansas, the state’s largest dental insurance company, for facilitating the interview.