A dentist works on a patient. (Courtesy of Howard University)
A dentist works on a patient. (Courtesy of Howard University)

While the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly path in the District, dentists are encouraging patients not to forget their oral health and to continue good practices that will keep their teeth and mouths clean.

“People should always take care of their dental needs,” said Dr. Crystal L. McIntosh-Clarke, associate professor at the Howard University College of Dentistry. “Good dental care includes brushing and flossing their teeth twice a day and if there is gum discomfort, they need to see a dentist as soon as possible.”

In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an order closing nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus presence in the District. The order limited the services that dentists could offer because of the risk of viral infection that could take place between dentist and patient.

Dr. Steven Guttenberg, president of the DC Dental Society, the District’s chapter of the American Dental Association (ADA), told WJLA-TV on May 1 that “emergencies are all that we can treat.”

“We are not doing any routine dental care or things of that nature,” he said.

Bowser recently extended her order to June 8.

The ADA issued a recommendation on March 16 to its members regarding the pandemic.

“In order for dentistry to do its part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the ADA recommends dentists nationwide postpone elective procedures for the next three weeks,” the statement said. “Concentrating on emergency dental care will allow us to care for our emergency patients and alleviate the burden that dental emergencies would place on hospital emergency departments.” While the statement mentioned three weeks, the recommendation has been tailored to fit the jurisdiction that a dentist practices in. In the District, as Guttenberg said, the mayor’s order stands as the operating procedure for the profession until she lifts it.

McIntosh-Clarke said much has changed in her profession since the advent of the coronavirus in the District.

“Because of the pandemic, dentists in D.C. have to adjust to a new normal,” she said. “Dentists aren’t practicing in their offices nearly as much as during the pre-COVID-19 days. There is a need to use personal protective equipment for other medical purposes than dentistry at this time. Patients who don’t have emergency needs may have to wait a while for service.”

McIntosh-Clarke said Howard University’s Dental Clinic hasn’t accepted patients since the pandemic started in the city. Howard’s dental clinic exists as the only one of its type in the District, and with that in mind, McIntosh-Clarke said patients with dental concerns should go to Howard University Hospital for treatment, “whether it is an abscess or swelling.”

“I am aware that home remedies such as peppermint or garlic can be helpful in dulling tooth pain,” she said. “But those remedies last only a few hours. You need to see a dentist because the pain may be a symptom of something more serious.”

Dr. Dana C. Jackson, who teaches at Howard’s dental college and is the program director for Howard University Hospital’s oral and maxillofacial surgery department, agreed that people who have dental emergencies at this time should come to the hospital.

“We get 10-15 emergencies like that a day,” Jackson said. “We treat people whether they have cavities, toothache pain and infection and abscess. It is important that you come to the hospital for your dental needs when things happen like falling down and breaking teeth or uncontrolled bleeding of teeth occurs.”

Jackson said if a patient has throbbing tooth pain, over-the-counter medicines such as Orajel, Tylenol and Ibuprofen and even a home remedy such as clove oil will help alleviate the pain. He also advised patients to stay away from sweets while enduring pain.

Both McIntosh-Clarke and Jackson stress the importance of maintaining oral health during the pandemic.

“Please stay healthy in general and if you need to see a dentist, come to the hospital where we will help you,” McIntosh-Clarke said.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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