Monkeypox was recently declared a public health emergency, and the CDC warns health care providers to be on the lookout for symptoms. Here’s why dentists may be among the first to spot a case if you have the virus.
Last month, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox an international public health emergency.
Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases, says the U.S. leads the world in cases:
“Currently, there is upwards of 15,000 known cases of monkey pox throughout the United States and upwards of 400 cases in Pennsylvania,” he said.
He says cases present mainly in large urban areas.
“And the Lehigh Valley is the third largest urban area in Pennsylvania,” Jahre said.
The CDC urges health care providers to be on the lookout for monkeypox symptoms.
Dr. Jahre says it should start with dentists. So why dentists? Well, for starters, if you go every six months like recommended, it may be the most regular health appointment you keep.
“So when we’re screening for patients, we’re often the first physician that looks at somebody, the first doctor that looks at somebody, and can do that screening on a more regular basis than a lot of other people would be able to,” Dr. Stephen Charnitski, a dentist at Lehigh Valley Suburban Dental, said.
Charnitski says the importance of dentists checking for monkeypox during your dental visit is that one of the first places symptoms may may show up is inside your mouth.
“A rash on the tongue, the corners of the mouth, the roof of the mouth is the first place that we’ll see something,” Charnitski said.
Charnitski says it might not be something a patient would notice on their own, but the dentist can catch certain symptoms during an examination and then refer the patient to their primary care physician to get tested. The dentist would also then report it to the local health department.
Experts say the importance of catching monkeypox early is to isolate and stop the spread.
“With most viruses, there is some kind of initial sign,” Charnitski said. “People are going to have some kind of malaise, a little fatigue, maybe they’ll get a little rash that they think is unusual, a little soreness like that.”
Dr. Jahre says up to 70 percent of people with monkeypox have lesions within the mouth. But images from health sites on what to look out for may not be specific to monkeypox.
“They can resemble the lesions that we see in in herpes simplex or cold sores,” he said. “They can look like hand-foot-and-mouth lesions, canker sores or even lesions that occur from trauma.”
But Charnitski says dentists have already been trained to look for any and all abnormalities.
“We’ve been screening for all kinds of oral diseases forever,” he said. “Anyway, that’s just what we do, and lots of other diseases of the body show up in the mouth first.”
Experts say you should not skip your appointment for fear of transmission:
“Dentists have been following universal precautions forever, before AIDS, before everything that we never had any concerns. But we were among the most trained to handle that and prevent the spread of disease from one patient to another, from a patient to a doctor, from a doctor to a patient,” Charnitski said.
For more signs and symptoms of monkeypox you can go to the CDC’s website.