What to do if you need to see your dentist during the pandemic

Dentists' offices have been closed for all but dire emergencies during the coronavirus pandemic. But chipped teeth, toothaches and other dental issues don't respect the shutdown.

The president of Quebec's order of dentists drills down

Dental visits are cancelled for everything except emergencies right now, but if you are experiencing a dental issue, start by calling your clinic. (Attila Kisbendek/AFP via Getty Images)

Dentists' offices have been closed for all but dire emergencies during the coronavirus pandemic. But chipped teeth, toothaches and other dental issues don't respect the shutdown.

So what happens then? CBC's Sonali Karnick spoke with Dr. Guy Lafrance, president of Quebec's order of dentists, on Saturday's All In A Weekend.

This interview has been edited for length.

How should people get in touch with their dentist?

First of all, we do it by phone. If the clinic does not answer the phone, just leave a message on the answering machine. They should check messages regularly, so the dentist will phone you and try to figure out if it's a real emergency.

What counts as a real emergency?

Severe pain. Pain that cannot be controlled with the painkiller that you buy off the shelf at the drugstore. Infection, redness, swelling, prolonged bleeding, uncontrolled bleeding. Oral trauma — at this time of the year, this is quite frequent because the kids are starting to bicycle, because it's springtime. So sometimes they fall, and then maybe they have a helmet, but they can still injure their teeth. So this is an emergency that needs to be taken care of right away.

Dr. Guy Lafrance, president of Quebec's order of dentists, says any dental issue should begin with a call to your dentist. (Ordre des dentistes du Québec)

What if you have a COVID-19 infection?

We'll ask you a couple of questions — the regular questions: if you have a cough, a fever or if you've made contact with  people with the COVID-19 virus.

Then, over the phone, we will try to figure out if you can be treated with a prescription. That's the best situation. If your situation can be treated with a prescription, you can arrange for your prescription over the phone with the pharmacy. Maybe the pharmacist will be able to deliver the medication to your place.

But some people have the COVID-19 virus, and they do have a dental emergency. It doesn't happen that frequently, but it could happen. That's why the government has designated centres, mostly hospitals, that can take care of those people with the virus right now.

What if your clinic is in a building that has been closed?

You should be able to phone them. They may tell you to go somewhere else — a colleague, another clinic in your neighbourhood.

What can someone do if they need emergency care and can't reach their regular dentist?

Don't go to the hospital. They're so busy right now. Go to the website of the Ordre des dentistes du Québec,, and we have a list of clinics all over the province that are open.

What if you feel like you have a cavity?

If the cavity is not sensitive, just make sure you brush well and floss well. For the moment, just try to avoid sweet things and acidic food or liquids, because they may wake up the pain.

Suppose the tooth is sensitive, you can use some sensitive toothpaste. But don't forget, after using sensitive toothpaste, you don't brush and you don't eat for half an hour, because sensitive toothpaste makes a kind of layer of protection over your tooth — a really, really, really thin layer. During the day, if the tooth is sensitive, you can rub it with the sensitive toothpaste. It can help, too.

What about a broken tooth, or dental work that's coming out, such as a filling or a bridge?

First things first: phone your dentist, and discuss it with your dentist.

Suppose you have a broken tooth, and it's rubbing on your tongue or on your cheek. You can go to a drugstore and buy orthodontic wax. This wax is sticky, and it will stick on your piece of tooth that is broken and might be sharp.

But phone your dentist and discuss with your dentist, and you will try to figure it out over the phone. Maybe you can send a picture of your tooth over the phone. 

What kind of advice do you have for people to take care of their dental health so that they don't end up needing emergency care?

The basics: just brushing and flossing well all the time. Sometimes when people are home during the day, and they do not have their regular routine, they don't brush as regularly as they once did. Try to keep your routine for dental health. It will help, definitely.

Based on an interview on CBC's All in a Weekend

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now