To Drill or Not to Drill: Management of Endodontic Emergencies and In-Process Patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Biraj Patel, Michael A. Eskander, Nikita B. Ruparel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Introduction: Dental professionals are at high risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection because of their scope of practice with aerosol-generating procedures. Recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suspend elective dental procedures and avoid aerosol-generating procedures posed significant challenges in the management of patients presenting with endodontic emergencies and uncertainty of outcomes for endodontic procedures initiated, but not completed, before shutdown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the success of palliative care on endodontic emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic and to evaluate the stability of teeth with long-term Ca(OH)2 placement because of delays in treatment completion. Methods: Patients presenting for endodontic emergencies during COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place orders received palliative care, including pharmacologic therapy and/or non–aerosol-generating procedural interventions. Part I of the study evaluated the effectiveness of palliative care, and need for aerosol-generating procedures or extractions was quantified. Part II of the study evaluated survivability and rate of adverse events for teeth that received partial or full root canal debridement and placement of calcium hydroxide before shutdown. Results: Part I: Twenty-one patients presented with endodontic emergencies in 25 teeth during statewide shutdown. At a follow-up rate of 96%, 83% of endodontic emergencies required no further treatment or intervention after palliative care. Part II: Thirty-one teeth had received partial or full root canal debridement before statewide shutdown. Mean time to complete treatment was 13 weeks. At a recall rate of 100%, 77% of teeth did not experience any adverse events due to delays in treatment completion. The most common adverse event was a fractured provisional restoration (13%), followed by painful and/or infectious flare-up (6.4%), which were managed appropriately and therefore seemed successful. Only 1 tooth was fractured and nonrestorable (3%), leading to a failed outcome of tooth extraction. The remaining 4 outcome failures (13%) were due to patient unwillingness to undergo school-mandated COVID testing or patient unwillingness to continue treatment because of perceived risk of COVID infection. Conclusions: Palliative care for management of endodontic emergencies is a successful option when aerosol-generating procedures are restricted. This treatment approach may be considered in an effort to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19 infection during subsequent shutdowns. Prolonged Ca(OH)2 medicament because of COVID-19 related delays in treatment completion appeared to have minimal effect on survival of teeth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1559-1569
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of endodontics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Aerosol-generating procedure
  • COVID-19
  • endodontic emergencies
  • long-term calcium hydroxide
  • palliative care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry


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