What It's Like To Go To the Dentist During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A dentist cleaning down the space during COVID-19 pandemic.

Kosamtu / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Dentists have enacted several infection control practices during COVID-19 that will likely be the standard post-pandemic.
  • A high-concentration oral iodine solution was found to destroy the virus causing COVID-19 in lab tests, but still needs human trial data to show clinical efficacy.
  • Other mouth rinses are used in dentists' offices before procedures as a way to prevent virus transmission, along with added cleaning measures.

Going to the dentist is a whole new experience during the pandemic. From having your temperature taken at the door to rinsing your mouth before it's touched, there are a few added safety measures you can expect.

Luckily, the dental industry hasn’t been hit hard by COVID-19, Leonardo Marchini, DDS, an associate professor at The University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, tells Verywell. Because the dental field always employed meticulous infection control measures, it wasn’t much of an upheaval to adopt added COVID-19 measures. “Dentists have been very aware of cross-contamination and infection control,” he says. “Dental care has not been a hotspot for COVID-19 at all."

According to a report in The Journal of the American Dental Association based on June surveys from dentists, the prevalence of COVID-19 among dentists was less than 1%. Patients can expect to see many of the infection control practices being put in place at dental offices as the standard going forward.

Introducing Oral Rinses

Research has shown that over-the-counter mouthwashes have been effective at inactivating some coronaviruses, but the science hadn't tested them specifically on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Still, many dental offices are now employing this technique at the start of each visit. Mouthwashes specifically created for use in dental offices can be one way to try and prevent the spread of transmission during a visit.

Before the pandemic, it wasn’t commonplace for dental offices to make patients rinse prior to a routine cleaning or procedure.

“Today, almost all dental offices have their patients rinse, prior to procedures, with the principal aim of protecting from COVID-19,” a spokesperson for ioTech International, which created a new high-concentration molecular iodine rinse shown in lab testing to kill COVID-19, tells Verywell. “This is the new normal. There is no going back.”

The spokesperson says rinsing before visits will likely be standard as the public demands better infection control practices.

A recent test on four oral rinses' effectiveness at destroying SARS-CoV-2 found that ioTech’s molecular iodine formulation killed the virus in just 30 seconds. The test was done in a lab setting, and the authors say clinical results are needed to confirm findings. Researchers conducted the study at the Institute of Antiviral Research at Utah State University, and published their findings in the International Journal of Experimental Dental Science.

The rinses tested included:

  • 1.5% hydrogen peroxide
  • 0.2% povidone-iodine
  • 0.12% chlorhexidine gluconate
  • The ioTech molecular iodine

Some of the rinses, such as the hydrogen peroxide and chlorhexidine gluconate rinses, are available over-the-counter. But they are not yet recommended as a prevention or treatment method.

The molecular iodine rinse was the only one in the Utah State University testing to show complete effectiveness against the SARS CoV-2 virus. It took 30 seconds to be completely effective. The other rinses were partially effective after 60 seconds.

Neither of the iodine rinses (molecular iodine nor povidone-iodine) showed toxicity; the hydrogen peroxide and the chlorhexidine gluconate rinses did.

Molecular iodine is found in trace amounts of povidone-iodine. But the molecular iodine rinse produced by ioTech has a larger concentration of molecular iodine, so it’s known as a “super iodine,” the company’s spokesperson says.

“Our company has developed and patented a unique technology that can generate high levels of molecular iodine (the only biocidal species of iodine) in stable formulations,” the spokesperson says. “These formulations contain only trace quantities of other, non-biocidal forms of iodine. As a result, these ‘super iodines’ are far more effective and safer to use than commonly used povidone-iodine and other antimicrobial agents."

People should not try any oral rinses at home with the goal of killing COVID-19, Marchini says. “They’re for the medical setting,” he adds. He was not involved with the research.

The American Dental Association (ADA) says it does not have a recommendation on the use of mouth rinses to reduce or prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC is not as convinced of the protective effect of mouthwash on COVID-19. It states there is no published evidence regarding the clinical effectiveness of pre-procedural mouth rinses to reduce SARS-CoV-2 viral loads or to prevent transmission. Pre-procedural mouth rinses with an antimicrobial product may reduce the level of oral microorganisms in aerosols and spatter made during dental procedures, the guidance states.

What This Means For You

The dental industry deployed advanced infection control measures before COVID-19 and stepped up preventative strategies during the pandemic. Dentists have had low infection rates compared to other healthcare professionals. Before making an appointment at your dental office, consider asking more about the safety measures they're employing at this time.

Other Dental Visit Safety Measures

Iodine isn’t just for oral use. The use of iodine products in dental offices has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Some dentists use iodine solutions to wipe down surfaces and may add iodine to dental water. Some offices are even misting an iodine mist into the air from diffusers in each treatment room and the reception area in an attempt to knock down the viral load, the spokesperson says.

“Iodine has been used forever as an antiseptic,” Marchini says. He says iodine hasn’t been favored as an oral rinse due to its temporary staining.

Another infection control measure dentists are taking is using machines to trap aerosols that can get into the air. By vacuuming or suctioning the aerosols, it keeps them from being suspended in the air, reducing possible infection, he says.

Dentists are also using enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE). This may include putting one or multiple cloth masks over an N95 respirator or wearing a face shield. Many dentists have started wearing protective gowns as well. Marchini says they also change the PPE more often than they did in the past.

Patients may notice fewer magazines or chairs in the waiting rooms as well. Many offices ask patients to wait outside and call to confirm when they can enter the building.

“I would say it’s safer going to the dentist now because there’s so much concern and so much double-checking of everything,” Marchini says. “Dentists are doing their due diligence. We’re getting good results.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Banakar M, et al. COVID-19 transmission risk and protective protocols in dentistry: a systematic reviewBMC Oral Health. Oct. 8, 2020. doi:10.1186/s12903-020-01270-9

  2. Moskowitz H, et al. Comparative analysis of antiviral efficacy of four different mouthwashes against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2: An in vitro study. Intern J Exper Dental Sci. 2020. doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10029-1209

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for Dental Settings.

  4. American Dental Association. Products marketed to sanitize, reduce dental aerosols may lack research to support efficacy.

By Kristen Fischer
Kristen Fischer is a journalist who has covered health news for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in outlets like Healthline, Prevention, and HealthDay.