Last updated on November 24, 2020
In California, COVID-19 testing is within the scope of practice for dentists when used for screening for COVID-19 rather than providing a formal COVID-19 diagnosis. This means that once dental offices have obtained the appropriate lab licensure, dentists can incorporate rapid COVID-19 testing as part of their patient screening process in order to determine whether the patient is able to safely undergo dental treatment.
When a dentist determines that a patient is positive for SARS-CoV-2 through a rapid test result or through other symptom screenings, the dentist should route the patient into medical care, such as the patient’s primary care physician for an evaluation and confirmation of a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Beyond dental treatment or referral decisions, COVID-19 rapid testing at the dental office has the additional advantage of identifying potentially positive individuals early in the disease process, facilitating referral to a medical professional for diagnosis and intervention and contributing to public health surveillance and contact tracing efforts. The value of testing as a public health tool has been well documented in various studies and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is important to note that it is the standard of care and a Cal/OSHA requirement to appropriately screen patients prior to performing dental treatment; however, absent federal or state guidance, it is the dentist’s discretion as to how that screening occurs and whether to implement in-office rapid tests. Dentists should take the appropriate precautions regarding respiratory protection, PPE and infection control regardless of whether rapid tests are employed as part of the patient pre-procedure screening process. CDA’s Back to Practice website has a wide array of resources to keep your practice in compliance and safe for patients and staff.
At this time, there are many unknowns about what COVID-19 tests will look like in the dental office. The most common types of COVID-19 tests currently on the market are nasal swab or saliva based. It is likely any future rapid test that can be used in a dental office will be administered through one of these two methods. However, it is simply too early to determine if a rapid test will be affordable or accurate enough to test employees daily or whether dentists will be the only staff member that will be permitted to test patients and staff. Continue to check this CDA Testing Toolkit and newsroom as testing technology advances to learn more about specific rapid tests that can be implemented in the dental office.