We've been told since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to limit touching our faces, especially our eyes, noses and mouths.

But what about someone else touching your mouth, poking around on the inside?

Dentists' offices in the Garden State are open again, and these practitioners say dental care is an essential service about which you should feel comfortable.

"If you take the practices that we've been doing for years, and if you add to that enhanced procedures that we're doing right now, I think it's a very safe environment," said Dr. Cecile Feldman, dean of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark.

Feldman made the point that dentists have a long history of wearing personal protective equipment, sterilizing their instruments and disinfecting surfaces between each patient.

Additionally, dental offices in New Jersey are pre-screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms, so anyone demonstrating such symptoms will not be let into a building. Healthy people, meanwhile, are being told to wait in their cars in many locations.

And it's not just the dentists, but all other personnel who've taken to wearing masks and other forms of PPE.

"I would strongly encourage people, if they haven't seen their dentist lately, that they make an appointment to go ahead and do that," Feldman said. "We have created safe environments for our patients."

Some may be apprehensive to return to the dentist, Feldman said, but others are enthusiastic. She reports "pent-up demand" as a result of most offices being closed for routine work for several months, and currently, an inability to quickly clear the backlog of appointments because of social distancing rules that limit how many patients a practice can see in a day.

"We have a lot more emergencies," she said. "We have a lot of procedures that we started that, because there's been such a delay, we have to go back and redo parts of those procedures."

But it's not only emergency care that patients should take care of — routine care is key, particularly for the immunocompromised or those with diabetes, Feldman said, as neglect of oral issues can quickly lead to problems elsewhere.

"Oral health is a component of overall health, so you can't be healthy without having good oral health," Feldman said.

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