Is It Safe to Go to the Dentist Again?

At Dr. Todd Bertman’s office, the receptionist wears a plastic face shield. So do the hygienist and the nine doctors in the practice in Manhattan’s East Village.

Dr. Bertman reopened the office two weeks ago after closing it in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In another change from the past, he has switched from ultrasonic cleaners that spray water and saliva into the air to laser instruments.

The dentists and hygienists wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment that they change between appointments, a time-consuming, awkward ritual that requires them to take off booties, gowns, goggles, masks, gloves and the shields and replace them with clean ones.

“It’s like changing out of a spacesuit,” Dr. Bertman said. “It’s annoying as hell but this is what it kind of comes down to until we find a vaccine.”

“A remote conversation is probably the wiser step to take at this juncture,” she said.

But Professor Ferguson said her experience treating patients during the pandemic had made her feel reasonably secure visiting the dentist.

If a dentist is taking proper steps, like wearing protective gear and seeing fewer patients, people should feel confident, she said.

“None of us like to go to the dentist and we’ll use any excuse not to go,” Professor Ferguson said. “But there is growing preponderance of evidence that our oral health is very much connected to our overall health.”

Dr. Bertman said his staff had been tested for the virus and the results had all been negative. He said to reduce the risk of transmission he had scaled back the number of the treatments the office normally offers, including cleanings.

Dr. Eli Eliav, director of the University of Rochester’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health in New York, which provides dental care for low-income patients and people with complicated medical needs, said patients coming in for invasive procedures must be tested for infection at least three days before their appointment

The office has set up tents for waiting outside the facility and extended its hours so doctors can see more patients and adhere to social-distancing guidelines at the same time.

“And we’re adding more time between patients to be able to disinfect the room,” said Dr. Eliav, whose institute remained open. “I understand why people are anxious and concerned. That’s part of our job — to make sure that people are comfortable coming back.”

Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont, said he believed now was not the time for people to “come face to face with someone you don’t know.”

But those who feel they must return should ask a lot of questions, he said.

“Are they being clear about people not coming in if they have symptoms? Are they being strict about wearing masks? Are they making sure that the person who works on you is wearing a face shield and a mask?” Dr. Lahey said. “These are probably a few highlights that people should be looking up.”

Mr. Famularo, the Manhattan broker, said he served as the “guinea pig” for his family and was comfortable with his two sons and wife going to the dentist after seeing the precautions Dr. Bertman took.

“I felt like even if somebody had something, I wouldn’t be infected,” he said.

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