Deepak Jalan from Gurgaon was scheduled for dental surgery on March 25. The nationwide coronavirus lockdown foiled the plans. It has been over a month since and no dentist is ready to operate. The virus spreads from mouth, nose, and eyes, making dentistry a profession of high-risk in the wake of the pandemic.
"I have been on antibiotics from the last one month. The pain is unbearable, and I can hardly eat anything. I called around a dozen clinics in Gurgaon if they can help me with this situation, but everybody denied and advised me to take antibiotics," said Deepak.
The ordeals of the 25-year-old Monika Ashtana are no different. The Bhopal-based student was unable to get a dental filling done due to the lockdown. “As my nearby dental clinic isn’t open due to the lockdown, I have tried all the home remedies but none of them have a long term effect. My tooth has become very sensitive to anything I eat, hot or cold. If I don’t get the filling done soon I might have to get a root canal done which is even worse.”
Dental issues can cause severe pain and sleepless nights. Many patients across the nation are suffering due to the lockdown and have become the indirect victims of the COVID-19.
Almost the entire world in its entirety has come in the grip of the pandemic, and issues like the dental health remain un-attended. While the government has prescribed guidelines like social distancing and lockdown as a means to curb the spread of the virus, no such guidelines have been laid down for the well-being of dental patients.
Indian Dental Association (IDA), recently, issued a preventive guideline. Before elaborating on the recommendations to minimize chances of exposure, the guideline warns, "Dental care settings invariably carry the risk of 2019-nCoV infection due to the specificity of its procedures, which involves face-to-face communication with patients, and frequent exposure to saliva, blood, and other body fluids, and the handling of sharp instruments. The pathogenic microorganisms can be transmitted in dental settings through inhalation of airborne microorganisms that can remain suspended in the air for long periods, direct contact with blood, oral fluids, or other patient materials, contact of conjunctival, nasal, or oral mucosa with droplets and aerosols containing microorganisms generated from an infected individual and propelled a short distance by coughing and talking without a mask, and indirect contact with contaminated instruments and/or environmental surfaces."
A New Delhi-based renowned dentist, Dr. Pawan Pachwania, who practices in Patel Nagar, said "For safety purposes, all the dental clinics are shut. I have been prescribing antibiotics to patients who are under severe pain."
"Dental problems not only affect the physical well-being of the patient but also affect his mental health, which I think is very important in times like these."
When we approached Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon and enquired about its dental services, the hospital personnel clearly mentioned that it's not providing any dental services, no matter how severe the case may be.
Dr. Rakesh Mishra, HOD at Agarwal Diagnostic Centre in Goregaon East, Mumbai, is taking cases of patients in an emergency.
"We are only taking emergency patients into consideration, and we have received a strict set of guidelines by Dental Council of India (DCI) under which we can operate emergency patients with full precaution," said Dr. Mishra.
The guidelines seemed to be followed differently by various hospitals and clinics across the country.
When asked if such delays in dental treatment could cause a bigger problem than it already is, Dr. Pachwania answered "If left untreated for a long period, dental issues like periapical infection may lead to various sinus infections.
"Although we have received guidelines for treating only the emergency patients, 'emergency' is a vague term and it hasn't been specified by the officials what is to be treated as an emergency case." he further added.
According to a survey by KANTAR IMRB in 2019, 9 out of 10 people suffer from major oral health problems. More than 76 percent of adults have cavities or are at a high risk of developing them.
While it's understood that even a PPE kit would find it difficult to spreading of the coronavirus during a dental care procedure of an infected patient, it's getting increasingly difficult for other patients to receive proper medical care. Like all other sectors, hospitals too, have adopted the digital route by providing online OPD for patients, but for how long will it remain effective? Are we looking at another health crisis as a resultant to corona precautions?