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As patients resume regular dental visits for routine procedures, dental practices must institute a screening process to confirm the good health of patients before they arrive.

Those who develop COVID-19 can display a range of symptoms that vary widely from person to person, with some remaining completely asymptomatic. As dental patients may be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, it’s essential to identify those who may be carrying the virus in order to minimize their risk of coming in contact with and potentially infecting others.

Wondering how your practice can safely screen dental patients and minimize risk, as increasing numbers of patients return? Read on for helpful guidelines and resources.

Keep your patients informed

To ensure that patients feel comfortable scheduling and attending their appointments, it is important that they feel confident in their dental practice’s commitment to maintaining up-to-date sanitization protocols. One way to reassure patients of your commitment to their safety is by sending out a “reassurance letter” through an online or physical newsletter.

For an easy-to-use reassurance letter template, check out the example in the Return-to-Work Toolkit published by the American Dental Association. This customizable letter can be updated with your dental practice’s information and sent to patients as you reopen the office.

Pre-appointment screening calls

Pre-appointment screening phone calls determine a patient’s risk of exposure to COVID-19. The American Dental Hygienists Association provides a questionnaire for patients to determine their risk level, which can be read aloud and completed by staff over the phone.

It is crucial to screen all dental patients by asking if they have recently experienced each symptom currently associated with the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains the most current list of COVID-19 symptoms (see the list of State and Territorial Health Department Websites for your state’s testing information). If the patient responds with a ‘yes’ to one or more questions, it is worth assessing the risk and potentially rescheduling the appointment.

Before hanging up, don’t forget to inform patients that these questions will be repeated when they arrive, and let them know if their temperature will be taken, in order to ensure nothing has changed since your phone conversation. If you need to leave a voicemail or are communicating via text message, ask the patient to call the office prior to their appointment to complete the questionnaire. Remind patients to wear a mask inside the office prior to their dental treatment. Check the CDC’s website for updated guidance on wearing masks.

If your office has nearby parking, another tactic to enforce social distancing is to have patients wait in their car for the office to call or text when they should enter the building.

Remote check-in or virtual pre-screen

If your website is capable, you may install a questionnaire and instructions online for the patient to access pre-appointment. If the patient fails to complete the questionnaire on their own, a follow-up screening call is recommended.

Some offices have instituted mobile pre-check systems through an app or email, or even check-in kiosks in the waiting room.

Maintain a safe environment

The CDC’s Guidelines for Dental Settings offers a regularly updated guide to sanitization protocols for dental practices. Check back here for sanitation requirements as immunity rises.

More tips for maintaining safe and sterile conditions:

Follow up post-appointment

It is recommended to follow up with your patients 10 days post-appointment to determine if any changes have occurred.

Other helpful precautions your dental practice can consider: