Ask A Doctor: Is It Safe To Go To The Dentist?

A UT Health San Antonio physician answers listeners’ questions about their health during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Michael MarksAugust 21, 2020 7:03 am,

In this week’s installment of Ask a Doctor, UT Health San Antonio physician Dr. Fred Campbell answers more of Texas Standard listeners’ most pressing questions about the coronavirus.

How can the death rate be so low in Taiwan compared to Texas, when they have somewhat similar population sizes?

“Taiwan did it all right,” Campbell said. But there are big differences between the two.

First, Taiwan is a self-governed island (though it’s is also claimed by China), giving it more control over who enters it during the pandemic. That’s much different than Texas, which is a state with several land borders with other states and Mexico.

Taiwan also experienced the MERS and SARS outbreaks in recent years, which prompted it to prepare for future disease outbreaks.

“They were very much prepared, both to restrict travel into Taiwan and also to do some incredible efforts to minimize the transmission of COVID-19,” Campbell said.

Taiwan also enforced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the island from abroad.

Is it safe to go to the dentist?

Some dentists’ offices are changing their practices to limit to the spread of the coronavirus, including the one Campbell goes to at UT-San Antonio. There, they’ve stopped using water syringes because they can create a mist that could help spread the virus. They’re also testing patients for COVID-19 days before they come in for any special dental procedure.

“I’m hoping everybody else will emulate that good practice,” Campbell said

How does the virus actually spread in the air – is it like cigarette smoke or more like an aerosol spray?

It depends: when someone with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs, lager respiratory droplets containing the virus can spread through the air, but they don’t usually travel more than about 6 feet. But the virus can also now spread through smaller, aerosolized droplets, kind of like the mist in an asthma inhaler, Campbell said. And those droplets can travel farther and linger in the air longer. Less is known about the spread of COVID-19 in aerosolized form.

What could help protect you from aerosolized spread is spending time in spaces with good ventilation and air circulation if you have to be indoors. Also, try to spend more time outside if you’re going to be around other people, especially if those people aren’t wearing masks, aren’t practicing social distancing or washing their hands.

Web story by Caroline Covington.

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