Here is how your appointment might go, from the moment you sit in the chair. You’ll likely have two people working on you at a time—a technique known as “four-handed dentistry”—in order to speed up the procedures and control the amount of spit that gets into the air. You may see a high-evacuation suction device, which looks a bit like a vacuum cleaner, near your face; it will draw in air from the general vicinity and remove infectious material. “It has an extension that we put right in front of the patient,” says Melisande Wolff, a dentist in West Palm Beach, Florida, who reopened her practice on May 4. “Any extra aerosol that gets past the suction devices that my assistant is already using will get picked up by that.” You also might spot HEPA air purifiers, which use a very fine mesh to catch particles.
Your dentist might have you wear a rubber dam over the bottom half of your face to isolate each tooth from saliva and cut down on spray. You’ll look like you belong in a David Cronenberg movie, but it’ll keep everyone safer. Grant Ritchey, a dentist in Lawrence, Kansas, who opened his practice on Wednesday, said he’s been having patients rinse with hydrogen peroxide before their appointments, since there’s been some evidence that it can kill the virus in the mouth. Dentist offices may also look a bit more sparse, since having as few items out as possible in the room can also help reduce the risk that they’ll come into contact with potentially diseased aerosols.