Is it safe to go to my dentist? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday online, and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

From dental appointments to PPE disposal, here's what you’re asking us today

Dental offices have reopened in some parts of Canada. But is it safe to go? (Radio-Canada)

The information in this article was current at the time of publishing, but guidelines and advice can change quickly. Check with your local public health unit for the most-current guidance, and find the latest COVID-19 news on our website.

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to and we'll answer as many as we can. We'll publish a selection of answers every weekday online, and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

So far we've received more than 30,000 emails from all corners of the country. Your questions have surprised us, stumped us and got us thinking, including a number of questions about reopening and what that means for you.

My dentist is taking patients again, but is it safe? 

Dental offices are reopening in Saskatchewan and Manitoba this week, but Randy Y. is wondering whether dentists have enough PPE to keep patients safe. 

In Saskatchewan, some dental offices are staying closed, because they don't have enough personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks for emergency procedures. But others are open, and are taking appointments to treat anything causing pain or infection. However, simpler appointments for things like cleanings will have to wait for now.

How are dentists keeping themselves, their staff, and their patients safe?

"You'll be wearing a gown. I'll be wearing a gown. I'll be in a hairnet, all that kind of stuff. So, it will be a different experience," said Dr. Parviz Yazdani whose clinic in Saskatchewan opened Monday.

The College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan says the following measures will be in place at clinics that reopen:

  • All patients will be asked a series of questions to make sure they aren't showing COVID-19 symptoms — their temperature will also be taken.
  • If drilling is required, the college asks dentists to do the procedure in an enclosed room with a closeable door.
  • Since many dental offices have an open concept layout, a large plastic tent with a zipper door can be set up around the work space.
  • The operating room must remain closed for two hours, for dust to settle, before it can be cleaned.

Dentists in Manitoba are taking similar precautions. "We recognize that a lot of Manitobans have been waiting patiently to have their dental care needs managed and dentists want to get to their urgent issues first," said Dr. Marc Mollot, president of the Manitoba Dental Association.

Other provinces including Quebec, are looking to Saskatchewan and Manitoba to see how their dentists cope with COVID-19. "No dentist wants to go back to work until we get access to adequate PPE from our distributors," said Dr. Christine Nguyen Khac, in Quebec. 

Nationally, the Canadian Dental Association says it is working with government officials to help offices gradually reopen to provide more services. "Complying with social distancing guidelines and keeping patients, dentists and the dental staff protected are top priorities," said the association. 

Here is more information about what to do if you need to see your dentist during the pandemic.

Can my boss force me to go back to work?

Ontario's Emma H. wants to know if she has the right to refuse going back to work, because her partner is immuno-compromised.

Howard Levitt, an employment lawyer and senior partner at Levitt LLP, says it depends on her specific circumstance.

If, for example, a person has a private office, and is able to move and get inside the building while ensuring physical distancing, they would likely not have a right to refuse work, Levitt explains. However, "if the work was on the margin from a safety perspective, they would have the right to refuse." 

To determine this margin, an inspector would review the situation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). 

The same criteria could apply to someone who is being asked to go to work, but lives with someone who is at a higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19.

"If you can get a medical certificate saying that your partner is immuno-compromised, and there is that kind of danger from even leaving your house, the courts, I believe, will make an exception," said Levitt on CBC's Morning Live. But, he adds that every situation is unique and is treated as such when determining if a person is able to refuse going to work. 

Toronto lawyer Joe Nzemeke says employers have a duty to ensure workplaces are safe. "Her employer has a general duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstance to protect his/her employee," he said. 

If you are concerned about your own safety at work, you may want to contact your health-care provider.

How do I safely dispose of used PPE? 

Carolyn A. wants to know whether it's okay to throw PPE into her regular trash, or "should it be treated as infectious waste and put in yellow bags or containers?"

If you're going to dispose of any potentially contaminated waste, it's important to do it safely.

First, make sure you're taking masks and gloves off properly. This means treating masks and gloves as if they're contaminated and washing your hands with soap and water, or cleaning with an alcohol-based sanitizer, before putting them on and taking them off. 

When removing a mask, pull the ties away from your ears without touching the front of the mask. For gloves, that means taking them off while avoiding skin contact with the outside of the glove. Public Health Ontario has step-by-step instructions with photos.

Then, gloves and disposable masks should be discarded immediately into a garbage bin or bag. In most places, you can put masks and gloves out with your regular garbage, just make sure your bags are well-secured to protect other people from coming into contact with potentially contaminated waste.

If you're sick or taking care of someone, some municipalities like Vancouver and Toronto, ask you to take extra care and double bag your personal waste, including used masks, before putting them in the garbage. This is to protect waste collectors. 

Check with your municipality for garbage guidelines where you live.

You may have seen photos circulating on social media showing gloves and masks tossed aside in grocery store parking lots. Obviously that is not proper disposal. In some cities like Toronto and Vancouver where this kind of litter has become a big problem, litterbugs could face significant fines.

What does the number 19 signify in COVID-19?

Wayne and many others want to know where COVID-19 got its name?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause a range of illness from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

This pandemic involves a strain of coronavirus that's new to humans.

The term coronavirus is used as a kind of shorthand these days, but the new strain is officially called SARS-CoV-2. The illness it causes is COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the "CO" in COVID-19 stands for "corona," "VI" for "virus," and "D" for disease. The "19" is short for 2019, when the disease first appeared.

It was named according to the World Health Organization's recommendations.

You can learn more about what specific terms mean and some subtle differences in our COVID-19 glossary.

We're also answering your questions every night on The National. Last night, an infectious diseases specialist answered this question: Is the coronavirus mutating? Watch below:

COVID-19: Is the virus mutating?

4 years ago
Duration 2:32
Featured VideoAn infectious disease specialist answers your questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether the virus is mutating.

Tuesday, we answered questions about vaccines and vulnerable populations

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at


  • An earlier version of this story referred to the Occupational Health and Safety Act as the Ontario Safety and Health Administration.
    May 06, 2020 5:56 PM ET

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