New Jersey dentists have been open during the pandemic for non-emergencies since the end of May, but individuals in the profession worry too many residents are putting off routine dental care in an attempt to limit their exposure to the coronavirus.

And as vaccinations get distributed throughout the Garden State, and more people start feeling comfortable in a doctor's chair, there's additional concern the dentist's offices will see a wave of appointments and problems they won't be able to handle in a timely manner.

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"There's a percentage of patients that are sitting on the sidelines, they're not coming in," said Mitchell Weiner, a general dentist in South Brunswick and president of the New Jersey Dental Association. "We're always concerned in the dental profession about people who put off routine care — that was way before coronavirus; coronavirus has only exacerbated that situation."

Weiner said this is particularly a concern because dental health is linked to general health, and in many cases, a dentist is the only medical professional one sees over a year's time.

"People have to understand that putting routine dental care to the side is detrimental to their long-term health ... And for children, the decay can grow a lot quicker and be a lot more invasive," Weiner said.

In a January 2021 survey of 4,500 patients by NextSmileDental.com, 61% of New Jersey respondents said they've delayed routine check-ups due to coronavirus fears.

A January 2021 update to a monthly poll from the American Dental Association finds that 34.4% of dentist practices in New Jersey are open with "business as usual." The other 65.5% are open but with lower patient volume — the lower volume could be due to careful spacing between appointments to avoid crowded waiting rooms.

"We are very confident that we can deliver care safely and effectively right now," Weiner said.

Weiner encourages patients "on the sidelines" to "not put it off any longer" — if a dentist can spot an issue now, he said, one could avoid pain and more intrusive treatment down the line, perhaps as more patients feel comfortable coming in for a checkup or concern.

"The issue is, are there going to be spaces open in a dental office appointment book when there's such high demand?" Weiner said.

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