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Etiquette and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Dental Office Setting

Monday, March, 2, 2020

What every patient should know...

Scanning electron microscope image in false colour, showing the COVID-19 virus from a patient in the US.
COVID-19 image captured with a transmission electron microscope.

Anytime of the year, and especially during cold and flu season, it is very important to practice both safe and smart hygiene etiquette.  These guidelines can apply to a patient’s dental office visits, as well as, any appointments outside your home.

There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. These have been known about for many years. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. 

#1:  Stay home if you are sick or have symptoms.

If you are sick or are experiencing symptoms, then it is better to simply reschedule any elective dental treatments/appointments, until you are feeling healthy.  Your dental healthcare providers would rather you stay home if you are not feeling well or there is a possibility that you are contagious. 

#2: Wash Your Hands Properly

Perform hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub, or antiseptic hand wash) after having contact with respiratory secretions and contaminated objects/materials.  Please make certain to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.  This is the minimum amount of time recommended.  For more information about proper hand washing please visit:

#3:  Use proper Etiquette when Sneezing/Coughing

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;
  • Use in the nearest waste receptacle to dispose of the tissue after use;
  • If no tissue is available, then cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow and not your hand.
  • When space and chair availability permit, encourage coughing persons to sit at least three feet away from others in common waiting areas. Some facilities may find it logistically easier to institute this recommendation year-round.

#4:  Consider temporarily NOT shaking hands with people

Alternative greetings such as a “fist bump” or “elbow bump” can be used instead of a traditional hand shake.  Or simply to agree to not shake hands and not replace it with any other form of contact.

#5: Routinely disinfect any surfaces that are frequently touched by people’s hands or could possibly be contaminated with respiratory secretions. There are many over the counter products that will work to disinfect surfaces.

#6:  Wear a mask if the situation is appropriate. This is a controversial topic because some people think they are safe as long as they are wearing a mask.  Also, some people who are contagious think they are OK to be in public as long as they are wearing a mask.  Masks are not full proof.  If not used and worn correctly, they can actually spread the virus more instead of less.  So please make sure to do your research on masks and their proper use.


Respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette infection control measures along with contact precautions are currently recommended for preventing transmission of COVID-19 and all flu-like illnesses in a dental healthcare setting. 

For more information from the American Dental Association on this topic, please visit:

Other things to consider that are Non-Dental Related:

#1: Don’t Panic:  It is highly unlikely that human civilization will come to an end because of this particular Coronavirus. We may be inconvenienced for a time period, and some deaths are inevitable.  The truth is that more people have died and will die from the Flu this year than COVID-19. Any fatalities from COVID-19 are heart breaking, but again, don’t panic. Most people who get the virus will recover.

#2: Be Prepared:  I my opinion, it is important to have some normal everyday type of supplies on hand in case you get sick.  It is better to have these things already, than to have to go to the store sick and possibly spread illness to others.  Items such as over the counter cough and flu medications, along with, OTC analgesics such as Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen are always good to have at your home.  Some other items to consider for you shopping list:  Pedialyte, Gatorade, Kleenex, Clorox Wipes, Vicks Vaporub, and Chicken Noodle Soup.  Some people are advocating having a least 14 days worth of food in your home so that you do not have to go grocery shopping if you are sick.  In my opinion, it’s always a good to have an emergency supply of food just in case. However, there is ZERO reason to hoard food and supplies.

#3: Consider Modifying Travel Plans: Personally, our family changed our Spring Break plans just as a precaution.  This may not be 100% necessary, but I have always been a “Safety First” kind of a person.  We are planning to avoid any unnecessary travel until things stabilize and COVID-19 is less of a threat.

Because this is a new and quickly evolving virus, the above information could change with time. Please visit the website for the latest information about COVID-19.

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