LYNNWOOD, Wash. — The dentist's office was a scary place for many people long before the coronavirus pandemic. For some, it's even scarier now.
People are avoiding dentists because they worry it isn't safe -- and that's creating another set of health issues.
The ongoing global pandemic is quite literally grinding people down to their breaking point.
"This patient said she started to notice herself clenching and grinding," said Dr. Bradley Jonnes of Lynnwood's Cedar View Dental, pointing to an X-ray. "She actually broke the tooth off at the gum line."
Jonnes said, prior to the pandemic, he'd see a broken tooth every couple of weeks. Now he sees several a week.
"People come in and I ask them what changed, and they say, 'Look at the world! It's stress. I'm definitely clenching and grinding now.'"
Fear of contracting COVID-19 also has people putting off check-ups, turning small problems into big ones. Routine cavities can become root canals.
After dental offices across the country were completely shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, the American Dental Association changed its policy, designating check-ups as "essential" services.
When asked whether a check-up truly is "essential," Jonnes responded, "That's an interesting question. Sometimes we do a check-up and we find a lot more, so we can prevent a lot more. In some cases, it saves people time and money and pain and hassle by doing that check-up. We screen for oral cancer and other issues. We never know what we're going to find until we get in there."
Washington state is now allowing dentists to operate as they did prior to the pandemic with additional requirements, including screening of patients for symptoms and thorough cleaning of facilities.
Though not required, Jonnes uses a hand-held fogger to coat his office with a natural disinfectant every day.
He wears both an N95 and additional surgical mask during each procedure. A hospital grade air purification system filters the air in the office every 15 minutes.
"The good thing is, we now have a track record," said Jonnes. "When we were first opening, we didn't know how COVID and dentistry would be affected. Talking with my colleagues, the American Dental Association and the national association, we can see dental offices have been safe."
The American Dental Association reports less than 1% of the nation's 200,000 dentists have tested positive for coronavirus, compared to more than 200,000 health care workers who have been infected.