Oral Health Care during COVID-19

Dr. Jorelle Alexander, DMD, MHP., is a dentist and department chair of Oral Health for Cook County.  She is responsible for the operations of dental clinics in the Cook County Health system.  This includes community dental clinics and others in Cook County Correctional facilities and the Juvenile detention center.

How has Covid-19 and the Pandemic affected Oral Health Care in Cook County?

When it comes to the pandemic as it relates to oral health, Dr. Alexander says, “Covid-19 not only hit the medical community hard but the dental community. If you think about the nature of the disease and dentistry, we are in direct contact with patients. Therefore, oral surgeons, periodontists, and orthodontists are at higher risk of coming into contact with the virus due to the nature of what we do”.

The care structure has changed to protect staff and to protect and provide care to patients. The dentistry department has intentionally postponed all elective procedures, elective surgeries, or non-urgent dental visits to make sure that both the dental health professionals and patients are kept safe.  Dentists across the city and state continue to be present for their patients by providing emergency or urgent care as needed.

Dr. Alexander says that the issues being addressed at Cook County Health right now are those who have urgent and emergency dental needs. This may include severe pain, swelling,  uncontrollable bleeding, tumors, or lesions that may need further evaluation, severely broken teeth, or care that cannot wait to be addressed.

Dr. Alexander stressed that there are things that happen in the oral cavity that affect the whole body. She emphasized that this is the time to offer urgent care to keep people safe and out of the emergency room.  Those should be reserved for patients that are sick or that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so that they can get the appropriate medical attention.

What complications arise when it comes to Underserved Populations and African Americans as it pertains to oral health? 

Prioritizing oral health is necessary; however, in many underserved communities, oral health falls to the bottom of the list due to lack of insurance or financial resources. Many choose to visit their dentist only when something hurts and often ignore preventive care.  This becomes problematic because it often limits a patient’s options when it comes to treatment, sometimes resulting in tooth loss. The mouth is connected to the rest of the body. It is imperative to take care of your oral health not only in what you eat but in how you take care of your organs and oral structures.

The Future Outlook for Cook County Oral Health

Cook County has invested significantly in the Oral Health Department. By expanding across the city.  New clinics have opened up on Stroger Campus and in Arlington Heights with plans to open more.  The goal is to ensure that Cook County residents have access to quality oral health care across the entire county.

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