MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Board of Dentistry recommended this week that dentist offices halt routine cleanings and appointments, and only provide emergency care for the next two weeks, due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission.

There are about 1,000 clinics and more than 17,500 dental professionals in the state.

By concentrating on emergency dental care vs. suspending their work altogether, the goal is to alleviate the burden on hospital emergency rooms, said Bridgett Anderson, Minnesota Board of Dentistry executive director.

Anderson said Wednesday, March 17, that she thinks most are only handling emergency dental needs, but she said she’s heard from some dental hygienists and assistants that their offices are not limiting work unless it’s required by the state.

“Some offices are diligently following our recommendations, and some are ignoring the recommendations and not limiting their practices to emergent patient needs,” Anderson said. “We are disappointed. … We understand this is not an easy decision and everyone will be impacted financially, but we have to think about the public health and safety.”

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Anderson said many in the field are concerned about loss of wages and they will have to use the state unemployment program.

The Minnesota Dental Association, which represents about 70 percent of the dentists in the state, has been fielding calls from members with questions because the announcement was a recommendation vs. a mandate from the state, said Carmelo Cinqueonce, executive director.

The state association issued similar guidance on Monday, as did the American Dental Association, though the national organization’s recommendation is for three weeks.

Many dentists run solo practices, so Cinqueonce said the association will be pressing the state for economic relief for them, such as access to no- or low-interest loans to help their small businesses when they’re back to providing care.

Some dentists have a phone number for people to call if they need emergency care, while others are keeping their offices open with limited staff to respond to dental emergencies, according to Cinqueonce. If they need to see a patient, it’s recommended that they conduct screening and check their temperature to ensure they don’t have a fever, he said.

Dental workers are considered high risk to contract coronavirus because of contact during dental procedures and the impossibility of social distancing during them. The state’s recommendation is also intended to help keep patients safe.

“Right now, our priority is for dental professionals to do their part to decrease the rate of transmission,” Anderson said.

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