Royal College of
Dental Surgeons of Ontario
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Patient dental treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic


In-person dental treatment is currently restricted to essential care only. Non-essential and elective care may be provided remotely, using teledentistry.

Reopening dental offices: a staged approach

During the COVID-19 crisis so far, dentists have only been permitted to provide emergency and urgent care.

Now dentists are beginning to be allowed to offer “essential services” as defined by the Government of Ontario.  Dentists’ return to practice will take place in stages, based on risk, and with the safety of patients and the public as the number one concern.

I think I have a dental emergency: what do I do?

  • Call your dentist. They will ask you for information about your situation, including whether you have any symptoms of COVID-19, and give you advice about next steps.  If you need to visit the office, they will let you know if they can help or will direct you to another dentist.
  • Don’t have a dentist? See our list of emergency clinics. The list is organized by city, and the names of the office show if it is a specialty office.    
  • Not all dentists have the safety equipment (PPE) needed to guard against COVID-19. Dentists that are equipped to treat emergency cases are required to maintain all standards of infection, prevention and control set by the College and Public Health.
Do not go to a hospital emergency room for a dental problem at this time

Definitions of care

Dental Emergency

In dentistry, an emergency is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment, including:

  • oral-facial trauma (a wound to the mouth or teeth)
  • a bad infection, especially if it affects the patient’s airway
  • prolonged bleeding
  • pain that cannot be managed by over-the-counter medications

Urgent care

Urgent dental care means treating conditions that require immediate attention to relieve pain and/or risk of infection such as:

  • severe dental pain from inflammation
  • third-molar pain
  • surgical post-operative problems
  • abscess or localized bacterial infection resulting in localized pain and swelling
  • tooth fracture resulting in pain, pulp exposure or causing soft tissue trauma
  • extensive cavities or defective restorations causing pain
  • dental trauma
  • final crown/bridge cementation if the temporary restoration is lost, broken or causing irritation
  • biopsy of a suspicious oral lesion or abnormal oral tissue
  • replacing a temporary filling in an endodontic access opening for patients experiencing pain
  • snipping or adjusting an orthodontic wire or appliance piercing or ulcerating the oral mucosa
  • treatment required before critical medical procedures can be provided
  • suture removal
  • denture adjustments or repairs when function is impeded
  • other procedures that in the dentist’s professional judgement are necessary in order to minimize harm to patients and/or relieve pain and suffering

Non-essential care

Non-essential dental care includes:

  • recall examinations and routine radiographs (x-rays)
  • routine dental cleanings and preventive therapies
  • orthodontic procedures other than those to deal with pain, infection, and trauma
  • extraction of asymptomatic teeth
  • restorative dentistry
  • cosmetic dental procedures, including teeth whitening

Visiting my dentist: Is it safe?

Dentists must consider the best interests of their patients and communities at all times. The College developed a guidance document for dentists: COVID-19: Managing Infection Risks During In-Person Dental Care.

This guidance document is to be used by dentists throughout each Stage of Reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the key areas of the guidance document provided to your dentist to help ensure your safety and manage infection risks during in-person dental care.

Infection Prevention and Control

  • Infection prevention and control in dentistry is vital for safe patient care.
  • All dentists providing dental treatment are required to ensure the College’s Standard on Infection Prevention and Control are met in their dental practice.
  • If you are concerned about your dental condition, your dentist will ask you questions over the telephone and determine if you need to be seen. If you need to be seen in the office, there are strict Infection Prevention and Control Standards that they must follow. 

Sterilization

  • Your dentist must ensure that the office and operatories are clean and disinfected between each patient appointment.
  • Your dentist must ensure magazines, toys, and any other non-essential items are removed from office, reception area, and operatories.
  • Dentists must tell their staff to clean their hands frequently, especially before and after contact with patients, after contact with high-touch surfaces or equipment, and after removing PPE.

Dentists’ Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Your dentist or oral health care worker should wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, protective eyewear, masks and protective clothing (if an aerosol-generating procedure is performed. PPE should always be used during your treatment.
  • Your dentist must ensure that they can meet the PPE and operatory requirements before they schedule an in-person appointment for assessment or treatment.
  • If your dentist can’t meet the PPE and operatory requirements, and you require emergency treatment, your dentist must refer you to another dentist.

Patient Screening and PPE

  • Before you go into the office, your dentist or their staff will ask you screening questions about to see if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Dentists must require all patients and visitors to wear a mask at all times while in the office except when they are being treated.
  • Patients who arrive without a mask given one by staff before entering the office. If they can’t provide a mask, they will schedule a new appointment.

Hand Hygiene

  • Patients will be required to perform hand hygiene (washing) using a 70-90% alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, as soon as they enter the dental office.
  • Your dentist may ask you to disinfect with 70-90% alcohol-based hand rub before leaving the dental office.
  • Your dentist or oral health care worker must wash their hands with soap and running water.

Patient experiencing symptoms of COVID-19

  • Contact your doctor if you might have COVID-19.
  • Call Telehealth Ontario. The Telehealth number is 1-866-797-0000. Stay in self-isolation until you receive instructions otherwise from one of the above sources. 
  • Click here for the Ministry self-assessment link.
  • Patients should tell office dental staff if they experience any symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days after their dental appointment.

I don’t want to go to my dentist’s office. Can my dentist just prescribe medications for me over the phone?

Your dentist will decide if over-the-counter medications (e.g. Advil, Tylenol) are recommended, if prescription medications are necessary, or if you need to be seen at the office. 

If you need a prescription, your dentist may send a prescription to the pharmacy directly, if appropriate.

During this pandemic, all dentists must continue to practice within the College's Guidelines on prescriptions for narcotics and/or opioids.

Where to find up-to-date information

Follow us on Twitter @rcdso_org for regular updates or check our website: www.rcdso.org.