Stratford dentist Mary Anne Costelloe says while dental clinics are closed during the Covid-19 related lockdown, she and her fellow dentists are still working.

"We are all maintaining phone contact. The emphasis is on phone contact first, and delaying the need for treatment with antibiotics or simple dressings."

MaryAnne Costelloe is still available to her patients when needed during the lockdown.
MaryAnne Costelloe is still available to her patients when needed during the lockdown.

Mary Anne says people can also help themselves by taking simple steps to ensure they maintain good dental hygiene during the lockdown.

"They should continue regular tooth cleaning with a soft toothbrush at least twice per day with a fluoridated toothpaste. People should also try to drink mainly water or milk. Toothpicks are a good alternative to floss and can be helpful when food is stuck between teeth. There are special plastic toothpicks often available at supermarkets "

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In an emergency, people can do some simply things at home while waiting to talk to their dentist, she says.

"The first thing is to ring me or their own dentist. If a tooth has broken and is rough try using a nail file or similar to smooth edges. Then get some chewing gum or bubble gum. Chew it until it is soft, suck your mouth dry and pack the chewing gum into the defect. If that is unsuccessful then a dentist can place a more reliable dressing material. Where there is infection and or swelling contact your dentist and we will arrange antibiotics."

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"If these infections cannot be controlled then an extraction is indicated probably, locally or there is the hospital community team that can manage the situation, but we are all to try the simpler measures first. If there has been an accident with broken and or shifted teeth then contact a dentist straight away."

When the lockdown was announced last week, the team at Stratford Dental used a text system to contact all patients, with follow-up phone calls made as well. While the phone system was overloaded at the start, rendering it unusable, Mary Anne says they managed to contact as many people as possible. She says clients were all generally understanding and supportive of the situation.

"The feedback was good generally. A few people even rang back and wished us well for the next period and that was nice. I had one patient who turned up that we had been unable to contact and his situation has been sorted . Not everyone has replied about receiving the texts but they can still phone me or leave a message on the answerphone."

While the current focus is on delaying treatment, Mary Anne says people should not put off calling if they are in pain or experiencing any major issues, adding that what constitutes an dental emergency can be quite different depending on the person experiencing it.

"We all have different tolerance levels. Times when you absolutely should contact your dentist include if there has been an accident with broken and or shifted teeth. Any accident where teeth are broken and the nerve is exposed or when the teeth are shifted in position or you are unable to bite together properly. Other situations include when there is facial swelling or when you are unable to sleep or eat properly with a sore or broken tooth or denture and your general well-being is being made miserable, or you just can't handle it."

If your dentist decides they need to treat you during the lockdown, they will do so following official guidance, says Mary Anne.

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"The advice to dentists from the Dental Council and other reliable sources is not to create any aerosols such as using a high speed hand piece, but that is what we mainly use in pre Covid life."

She says she has some PPE (personal protective equipment) if needed, but says in general dentistry it isn't always needed.

"PPE is not essential for simple dressings on a Covid-19 free patient. The hospital dental service is currently set up to provide emergency dental care to Covid-19 susceptible patients and treatment requiring use of aerosol producing hand pieces in community clinics, or where simple measures alone will not solve the patients problems."

Mary Anne has developed a strong interest in paediatric dentistry over the years, gaining additional qualifications in the field and now seeing many young patients from all over Taranaki and Whanganui. She says she has some concerns regarding youngsters missing their appointments during the lockdown, as it will cause a backlog of patients later on. Children suffering from dental-related pain or infection will also add to the stress of lockdown, she says.

"Some are not able to eat normally, or may be in pain or have an infection. Crying children, especially at night, can create a significant burden to households already stressed by the lockdown scenario. The backlog will only increase significantly and add another time delay in getting treatment after the lockdown finishes."

While she is still helping her patients, Mary Anne says she is also finding some time during the lockdown to read and garden.

"I am still in housekeeping and gardening mode at the moment and enjoying long walks around home in the sunshine. I am reading Anne Glenconner, Lady in Waiting and online the New Yorker has great articles I enjoy too."

Her bubble consists of herself and her husband she says.

"Although we have set up a WhatsApp group with my family and we are constantly texting both family and friends."

The one thing she misses most from pre-lockdown life is the people she says.

"And my young granddaughter."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website