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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: By April 9, there had been more than 13,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in Brazil and 667 associated deaths, according to the World Health Organization. As a result, dental professionals across the country have had to react rapidly and implement appropriate safety measures to help contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes this disease.
In an editorial for Dental Tribune Latin America, the Brazilian cosmetic dentist Dr. Priscilla Pereira outlined how dental congresses, university classes and specialization courses are a few of the activities to have been cancelled indefinitely in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. She cautioned that dental professionals might be more susceptible than other professionals to contracting and transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus owing to their prolonged proximity to patients and recommended that dentists avoid treating patients suspected of having already contracted the virus.
Pereira’s advice is backed up by guidance provided by multiple local dental associations. Last month, the Associação Paulista de Cirurgiões-Dentistas (São Paulo association of dental surgeons) released a list of recommendations for dental professionals to help limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in their practices, which included now standard measures such as thorough and regular hand-washing; use of protective masks, gloves and eyewear; and the need for strictly following all sterilization and disinfection procedures.
The Conselho Regional de Odontologia do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro regional council of dentistry) was also quick to send a message regarding safety standards for dentists, stating that only urgent cases should be attended to during these trying times.
Mixed messages to the general public
Though the advice for dental professionals in Brazil is relatively clear-cut, the country’s tumultuous political climate has helped sow confusion among the general public about how they should behave. According to Reuters, division on the topic of social distancing has risen among the members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet: Bolsonaro himself rejected the proposal for nationwide social isolation measures, while the Brazilian health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, was fervently in favor of them. During the political stalemate, many of the country’s state governments have taken it upon themselves to introduce local lockdowns for their inhabitants.
Bolsonaro, elected president in 2018, has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic and of the virus’s effects. In an interview with the television channel R7, he dismissed COVID-19 as “a little flu,” and he has repeatedly ventured onto the streets of Rio de Janeiro to mingle with groups of supporters—an act in violation of the social distancing regulations put in place by the city’s mayor, Marcelo Crivella.
“Jair Bolsonaro, elected president in 2018, has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic and of the coronavirus’s effects”
In addition, though the official COVID-19 figures mean that Brazil is the hardest-hit country in South America, there are fears that low levels of testing mean the true number of cases and related deaths are significantly higher. According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Edmar Santos, the health secretary for Rio de Janeiro, stated that there could be as many as 50–100 infected individuals for each of the city’s confirmed cases.
What are Brazilian dentists able to do?
As Dr. Irineu Gregnanin Pedron, a key opinion leader in dentistry from the Brazilian city of São Paulo, outlined in an interview with Dental Tribune International, many Brazilian dentists have not been able to treat any patients at all in recent weeks.
“Some patients have contacted us with possible emergencies, such as detachment of a temporary prosthesis, but because most people are staying home and the recommendations are to avoid social contact as much as possible, we are advising patients by telephone and advising them to go to the emergency room at the hospital when there are no other possibilities for alleviating their problem,” Pedron said.
Pedron remains optimistic, however, that there will eventually be positives to be taken away from this global crisis. “I have seen with this crisis that the average human being seems to be more concerned with others, seems to be less selfish and more altruistic [...] We should take advantage of this moment to reflect, develop ideas, create future projects, improve climate change, bring optimism to those around us and try to influence people for a better future, after COVID-19," he concluded.