Scheduling an Appointment at the Dentist: What to Expect

Young child at an appointment at the dentist being examined by dentist.

At the height of COVID-19, dental offices were closed to protect patients and employees. Now, many offices are open and scheduling appointments. Dentists are following the established health and safety guidelines, and ready to care for your teeth. Here’s what to expect at your next appointment at the dentist.

Health and safety precautions

People often put off going to the dentist until a tooth starts hurting. But it’s essential to schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings to take care of your teeth and gums. Especially since your dental health can affect your overall health, including your heart.

Now that dental offices are open, dentists are encouraging patients to have their teeth checked. So go ahead and make your next dental appointment.

Dentists are following American Dental Association health precautions and safety guidelines to care for patients. This includes disinfecting waiting rooms, dental chairs, equipment, dental tools and all surfaces. And they do it before and after each patient. Some dental offices also use air filters to capture any airborne droplets. Dental team members also wear gloves, facial masks, gowns and shields, hair nets and shoe covers.

Appointment guidelines

When scheduling your dental appointment, you will receive instructions for your visit. This includes answering COVID-19 screening questions. The office may ask you to come alone to the dental appointment and wear a mask. You may want to bring your own pen to sign any documents.

The day of the appointment, you most likely will be instructed to call the reception desk from your car when you’ve arrived. Or you may go directly to the waiting room. A staff member will greet you at the door, take your temperature and review COVID-19 screening questions. If you meet the criteria, the dental staff member will take you to an exam room.

Treatment changes

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most dentists have changed how they care for patients during their appointments. These changes help reduce the spread of germ droplets through the air.

So when cleaning your teeth, the dental hygienist may use hand instruments, instead of electronic tools, to remove plaque and polish your teeth. This process may take a little longer than your previous cleaning appointment. To safely capture saliva, many dental offices use a suction tool that hooks on the side of your mouth. It also reduces your need to swallow. If you need dental work, such as a filling or crown, the dentist may use a rubber dam in your mouth to keep your teeth dry to prevent the spread of germs.

Ask questions

If you have concerns about visiting the dentist, call the office. Ask what they are doing to keep patients safe and prevent the spread of germs. Make sure to discuss the treatment process, so you know what to expect.

Maintain daily care

In addition to regular dental appointments, there are several things you can do every day to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Brush your teeth two times daily — after breakfast and before bedtime – for two minutes each time. And don’t forget to brush your tongue. Remember to floss once a day and use a non-alcohol mouth rinse to swish around your teeth to remove food particles. Then spit it out in the sink. (You want to avoid mouth wash with alcohol, because it can dry out your mouth.)

These three steps — brushing, flossing and rinsing — will help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Tip: By flossing first, then brushing, your toothpaste can clean better between your teeth. Learn more about dental health by reviewing these tips on using the right toothbrush, toothpaste and mouth rinse.

In addition, you can help avoid costly procedures by scheduling regular dental appointments for preventive checkups and professional cleanings. Go at least once a year; twice a year is better. If you experience periodontal problems, your dentist may recommend one or two extra cleanings each year.

The Washington Post