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Non-emergency dental procedures on hold in Oregon

A mandate from Gov. Kate Brown directing all health care providers to put all nonemergency procedures and appointments on hold during the coronavirus pandemic extends to those who encourage you to brush and floss regularly.

Dentists and dental hygienists must put procedures that don’t qualify as emergencies on hold, according to a memo released this week by the Oregon Board of Dentistry.

The mandate extends to hospitals, outpatient clinics and health care providers, “including veterinarians and dentists.” Its intent is to preserve medical supplies and protect health care workers and at-risk patients from COVID-19.

“If we do not take immediate action, the surge in demand in our hospitals for masks, gowns and gloves will quickly outstrip the limited supplies they have available,” Brown said. “We cannot let that happen.”

Dental emergencies include conditions such as swelling, pain, infection or trauma, according to Dr. Amy Fine, chief dental officer for La Clinica.

“That puts all the things like routine exams, routine cleanings, fillings, nonemergency root canals all in that other bucket,” said Fine, who has been practicing dentistry for 11 years.

La Clinica saw 11,129 dental patients in 2019, accounting for 31,270 dental visits. Of that number of visits, about 4,000 accounted for emergency procedures, La Clinica officials said.

Over the past few years, La Clinica had made strides to expand its dental services in Jackson County K-12 schools, setting up clinics in the Medford, Phoenix-Talent and Central point Districts. That program, called Happy Smiles, is on hold for the moment, said Julie Wurth, La Clinica communications officer.

Most of La Clinica’s 13 school-based health centers are temporarily closed during the statewide K-12 closure, though a pediatric nurse practitioner will continue to operate out of Jackson Elementary.

Mental health therapists have also operated out of the Central Point School District by phone this week.

Though nonemergency dental procedures are on hold, emergency procedures will extend to both La Clinica patients and walk-ins who are not yet patients, Wurth said.

All emergency procedures will be administered at La Clinica’s East Medford Dental Clinic from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to La Clinica’s website.

“It’s unclear to us how many other dentists will be able to accept emergency patients, but we believe we may be in the role of providing emergency access for larger parts of the community than we usually serve,” Wurth said in an email. “Our goals in this are to serve community need and help keep hospital emergency rooms clear.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, twice daily brushing and daily flossing is just as important as ever, Fine said. Maintaining overall physical health is also important, she added, encouraging people to keep focused on good nutrition and hydration.

Despite the unknown factors of the ongoing pandemic, Fine has gratitude for how the community and health care officials have responded.

“I’m trying to focus on what we can do,” Fine said. “How we can make a difference and collaborate together to have the most optimal outcome.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Dental tools and equipment over blue background.Set of metal medical equipment tools for teeth dental care