COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
Are you a dental professional with questions about COVID-19?
Each of the questions in the table link to the full question and corresponding answer.
Should you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us here or call us on 0800 193 1033.
- Why is COVID-19 any different from other infectious diseases?
- What is the incubation period for COVID-19?
- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- Which patients can and can’t be seen in general dental practices?
- What risk assessments do we need to undertake?
- What is an Aerosol Generated Exposure (AGE)?
- What is the most recent information on high-risk AGEs?
- How do I transport and clean my work uniform/scrubs?
- Can we open the drawers in our surgery during high and low risk AGEs?
- I work as a dental nurse and I have recently developed a loss of taste and smell. Can I still attend work?
- How do I get tested for COVID-19?
- I am a fully private dental practice. Are my staff eligible for an NHS COVID-19 test?
- I work in a dental practice and my daughter has got symptoms of COVID-19. She is awaiting her test results. Can I continue to go to work?
- How long should I wait before getting tested for COVID-19?
- How long should I self-Isolate for?
- Do I have to self-isolate if I was wearing a face covering or facemask?
- What is NHS Test and Trace? Does it apply to private dental practices?
- What does close contact mean?
- I returned to work last week after a 14-day period of self-isolation, but I have got COVID-19 symptoms again. What should I do?
- If I was previously tested positive with COVID-19, do I still need to get tested and self-isolate?
- What are the symptoms of coronavirus in children?
COVID-19 is caused by a novel (new) air-borne coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that current thinking suggests is transmitted by droplet and aerosol contamination and through close contact (less than 2 metres) with an infected person or through touching contaminated surfaces.
The overwhelming majority of pathogens in the dental practice are blood-borne viruses (BBVs) such as Hepatitis B, HIV, Hepatitis C and vCJD. There are extremely robust infection control procedures for dealing with BBVs but much less robust procedures for air-borne viruses and contact viruses. Additions to standard infection control procedures, including the use of PPE, are therefore considered necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic and possibly beyond.
The incubation period for COVID-19 averages 5 days and can be up to 14 days, during which time patients are thought to be infectious even though they may be asymptomatic. It is now known that around 30% of people who have the virus are asymptomatic, meaning that a significant number of patients attending a dental practice may be either asymptomatic or they may be carrying or incubating the virus. This applies equally to clinicians, team members, patients, and members of the public. There may also be individuals who choose to conceal their symptoms to access treatment.
Dental practices must therefore treat all patients as if they are infected and apply appropriately strict protocols for the protection of patients, clinicians, and team members.
The three most prevalent symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Fever (a temperature over 37.8 degrees centigrade).
- A new persistent cough.
- Loss of taste and smell.
Other symptoms that are not usual to the individual and have recently started may also indicate COVID-19, even in the absence of the common symptoms listed above.
The following symptoms have been identified in patients who test positive for COVID-19 (frequency is in brackets) and if present should prompt the individual to have a test:
- Loss of appetite (49-84%)
- Sputum production (28-33%)
- Aches and pains (11-44%)
- Sore throat (11-13)
- Diarrhoea (5-24%)
- Nausea/ vomiting (5-19%)
- Headache (6-70%)
- A new skin rash/discolouration of fingers or toes (<10%)
It is well established that respiratory viruses are more prevalent in the colder months of the year and it is inevitable there will be confusion about whether symptoms are due to the common cold, influenza, or COVID-19. It is therefore imperative that everyone with any of the symptoms above has a test for COVID-19.
Only patients who are asymptomatic and whose household members are also all asymptomatic for COVID-19 can be seen.
You cannot see patients who are:
- Self-isolating because they have one or more of the published symptoms of COVID-19 .
- Awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
- Are part of a household in which another member is self-isolating because they have one or more of the published symptoms of COVID-19.
- Are quarantining because they have returned from a country on the UK government’s list of non-exempt countries.
- Have been contacted by Test and Trace and told to self-isolate.
No treatment can be provided in dental practice for these patients until the end of the self- isolation or quarantine period.
On 4 November, the Department of Health and Social Care updated the list of patients who are clinically extremely vulnerable. These patients will again be receiving a letter from the government telling them to shield and to stay at home all the time, except for in certain specific circumstances, such as attending a medical appointment. All non-emergency dental appointments for these patients should be postponed during the lockdown. If an extremely clinically vulnerable patient is in urgent need of emergency dental treatment, they should be seen as the first patient of the day.
Clinically extremely vulnerable patients:
- People with solid organ transplants
- Specific cancers:
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy.
- People with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy.
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
- People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
- People having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
- People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
- People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- People with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), homozygous sickle cell).
- People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
- Adults with Down’s syndrome.
- Adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (Stage 5).
- Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
You will need to undertake risk assessments for:
- Every patient you see at your practice during the pandemic.
- All clinicians and all team members.
- Your practice.
To understand how to undertake risk assessments, take our CPD courses in the New Patient Journey and Risk Assessments Demystified.
The Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK), the FGDP guidance issued in June created the descriptor ‘aerosol generated exposure’ or AGE. An AGE is then further qualified as being a low-risk AGE (breathing, speaking, coughing, and sneezing or activating the gag reflex, some dental treatments) and a high-risk AGE (dental treatment that creates an aerosol). A high-risk AGE equates to what we have come to describe as an Aerosol Generating Procedure or AGP. This is very helpful as it stratifies risk and allows a risk-based approach to the selection of appropriate PPE.
High-risk AGEs are procedures that include (but are not limited to) the use of:
- The air turbine.
- The three in one air/water syringe when use of air and water is combined.
- High-speed electric handpiece operating at > 60,000 rpm.
- Surgical motors with irrigant/irrigation.
- Ultrasonic scalers and Piezo handpieces.
- Sandblasting, air abrasion, air polishing.
Practices may also wish to consider whether there may be a risk of aerosol generation when using endosonic handpieces and rotary endodontic handpieces.
All team members must be provided with adequate surgery-only uniform/scrubs and/or reception uniform for each working day.
Clinical team members must not travel to and from work in uniform/scrubs.
Rooms or areas should be available for staff to change into and out of uniforms or scrubs.
Uniforms/scrubs should be transported home in a pillowcase.
The scrubs and the pillowcase must be laundered immediately on return home (or at the practice if the facility is available) and separately at 60c or at a higher temperature if the fabric allows. They must be laundered separately to other items and the washing machine must be no more than half-full. They should then be tumble-dried and/or ironed.
Opening drawers is a tricky one! Actually we have been advised for many, many years that we should not open drawers during treatment due to the risks associated with any droplets in the air falling on clean materials in a drawer, so this isn’t technically a new ‘requirement’. However, realistically we all know that this isn’t always followed.
COVID-19 however poses a whole new risk level, especially while there is still much to learn about how it is spread and also while it is circulating in the community. For that reason, we should keep all drawers closed during treatment, whether this is for a high-risk AGE or a low-risk AGE. The differentiation between high and low risk levels of AGEs is very important because it acknowledges that there is no such thing as ‘no AGE’ because of speaking, breathing, coughing etc. That’s the reason theatres still cannot open and we have to wear masks in enclosed areas in public.
So, the answer is the ‘no opening drawers rule’ applies whatever you are doing.
I work as a dental nurse and I have recently developed a loss of taste and smell. Can I still attend work?
You can have a swab test to check if you have coronavirus (COVID-19). You can either:
- Choose to take the test in your local area at the designated testing centres OR
- Order a home test kit via https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test
If you have trouble with your internet, please call 119 if you are in England, Wales or Northern Island and 0300 303 2713 if you are in Scotland. Lines are open 7 am to 11pm every day.
Yes, the NHS COVID-19 test is available to everyone who have symptoms for coronavirus (i.e. a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste).
I work in a dental practice and my daughter has got symptoms of COVID-19. She is awaiting her test results. Can I continue to go to work?
No. You should not attend work and must immediately self-isolate if you or any member of your household have symptoms.
If you have tested positive for coronavirus or have symptoms, you will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days. You will need to self-isolate for 14 days if:
- Someone you live with has symptoms or tested positive
- You have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace
- Someone in your support bubble has symptoms or tested positive
Yes. You will have to self-isolate for 14 days if you come in close contact to with someone who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19. The NHS Test and Trace state that:
“ if you work in – or have recently visited – a setting with other people (for example, a GP surgery, a school or a workplace). The use of face masks and other forms PPE does not exclude somebody from being considered a close contact, unless they are providing direct care with patients or residents in a health and care setting”.
The NHS Test and Trace is a service:
- To ensure that everyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus can be tested quickly;
- To help trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus and notify them that they must self-isolate (if necessary) to stop the spread of virus.
NHS Test and Trace applies to everyone including private dental practices.
Close contact means:
- Having face-to-face contact with someone less than 1 metre away (this will include times where you have worn a face covering or a face mask)
- Spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- Travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane.
I returned to work last week after a 14-day period of self-isolation, but I have got COVID-19 symptoms again. What should I do?
If you get symptoms for coronavirus again, you must immediately self-isolate and ask for a test.
Information source: NHS UK website
The main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot, for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- a loss or change to sense of smell or taste – this means they cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
What to do if your child has symptoms
If your child has any of the main symptoms of coronavirus:
- Get a test to check if they have coronavirus as soon as possible.
- Stay at home and do not have visitors until you get the test result – only leave your home to have a test.
Anyone you live with, and anyone in your support bubble, must also stay at home until you get the result.
Here you will find some resources that may help. You can sample them and/or download them.