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Few Kids Seeing a Dentist Have COVID-19, Study Finds

FRIDAY, April 30, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Just 2% of young dental patients without COVID-19 symptoms tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to a new study.

Kids with COVID-19 are typically asymptomatic but can carry high levels of SARS-CoV-2 and spread it to others, University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) researchers noted.

Their study included 921 patients, aged 2 to 18, who had emergency dental procedures at UIC dental clinics between April 1 and Aug. 1, 2020.

The patients were screened over the phone before their visits and had no symptoms when they arrived for their appointments. They were given a polymerase chain reaction test for SARS-CoV-2 at their visit.

"The kids tolerated the test just fine. We were trained by a pediatrician on how to conduct the test. We used the nasal swab. We told the kids, 'We are putting a butterfly in your nose,''' said study co-author Dr. Flavia Lamberghini, a clinical assistant professor of pediatric dentistry.

In all, 2.3% of patients tested positive, but rates were statistically higher for Hispanic patients (3.1%). More than six in 10 of the kids in the study were Hispanic.

The findings were published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

If a test was positive, the researchers followed up with the child's pediatrician and caregivers.

"For most of them, it was a surprise to learn their child tested positive," Lamberghini said in a university news release. "It was good for families to know because these kids can transmit the virus, especially in communities where extended families tend to live together."

Knowing a patient has the new coronavirus is also important for dentists, Lamberghini said, because "we are more exposed to the COVID-19 disease because we work close to the mouth, and our tools generate aerosols that can infect the dentist and dental assistant — whoever is around."

The findings may prove useful for pediatric dentists who closed due to the pandemic and are considering reopening, according to co-author Dr. Fernando Testai, a professor of neurology and rehabilitation at UIC.

"Despite these children being COVID-positive, we did not observe transmission to clinic staff, supporting the notion that personal protective equipment works," Testai added.

More information

The American Dental Association has more about what to expect at your dental appointment.

SOURCE: University of Illinois Chicago, news release, April 26, 2021

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