Manitobans' regular tooth cleanings will have to be put off for now.
On Tuesday the Manitoba Dental Association released an announcement strongly recommending all non-essential and elective dental services be immediately suspended until further notice to help ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 infections.
"Our primary mandate is the protection of public interest, and our direction today was to focus on public protection by taking the first giant step and postponing non-essential and elective dental services until further notice," said Dr. Marc Mollot, president and board chairman of the Manitoba Dental Association, in an interview Tuesday.
"I'm thankful for the support that so many Manitobans have shown us for a bold move, I'd say…and the measures that Manitobans are taking to stop the spread of COVID-19, because that's really it’s all about."
Mollot said the MDA, which licenses all of the province’s dental practitioners, developed this recommendation in conjunction with the CEO of Shared Health Manitoba, the chief medical officer of Manitoba Health and Manitoba’s chief nursing officer.
While the direction is technically a ‘strong recommendation,’ dentists are expected to hold off on obviously non-essential treatments, like a regularly scheduled cleaning, and to make careful decisions about what ‘essential’ treatments to proceed with.
"Essential would be anything that's non-elective, and the reality is that that's a complex conversation that dentists are faced with every day in their practices," Mollot said.
"Certainly risk assessments would need to be made and undoubtedly include things like swelling, infection, pain, bleeding, and in our vast province would have to be applicable to patients in rural communities as well."
A receptionist at True North Dental Centre in Winnipeg said their offices would be closed until April 1, but that the dentist would still be available for emergency procedures as needed. Similarly, Clearwater Family Dentist in The Pas, Man. said their offices were closed for the time being, but that dentists were still figuring out how to proceed with patients in need.
Mollot said emergency dental work would be decided through a triage process and on a case-by-case basis.
"What can we manage with medication? What is the health status of the patient? Where are they located? These are all very important questions in trying to triage emergencies," he added.
Mollot said the MDA is asking patients who may need essential dental care to contact their dentists by phone first for triaging.
"In order to try to flatten the curve, we'd prefer to not have them show up at a dental office," he said. "If patients are healthy they can be seen on an emergent basis."
According to the MDA’s release, staff at the association will continue to work regular hours while practising social distancing, and will provide more information in conjunction with provincial health officials as the situation unfolds.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.