"I was having some pain," she said. "With the pandemic I said, 'I'll just have to wait until everything's over.'"
That Sunday, though, the pain became extreme. When she found a dentist who could see her, she learned she needed an emergency root canal.
As part of the country's response to the Covid-19
crisis, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended
that dentists put off "elective procedures, surgeries and non-urgent dental visits," allowing only emergency visits until the threat subsides.
That's because dental work could place dentists and dental hygienists at risk for Covid-19 infection, according to the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The government agency includes dental health-care providers in the "very high exposure risk
" category. Routine dental tools such as air-water syringes can send droplets of saliva through the air, potentially carrying the virus with them
. Even recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields and gowns, do not fully safeguard against infection.
The increased risk means it's critical to take care of your teeth throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and to see providers only in case of real emergencies.
If you do experience an emergency, as Pettus did, you'd likely see some new procedures to protect both patients and providers. Here's what you need to know.
What is an emergency?
There's no fixed definition of a dental emergency, said dentist Matthew Messina, the clinic director
at Ohio State Upper Arlington Dentistry and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
Messina said issues that may require immediate care include a fractured tooth, swelling or pain that can't be managed with over-the-counter medications.
"If someone has a little sensitivity from a small cavity," he noted, "that would probably be postponed until after the restrictions are lifted."
The most important thing, he said, is to start by calling your dentist, who may be able to offer care via telehealth
"A lot of times, some really useful things can be taken care of over the phone," he explained.
How should you care for