Patient-reported orofacial-dental pain severity and tele-triage decisions during COVID-19 pandemic: Does the severity of pain drive tele-triage decisions?

BMC Oral Health. 2022 Jul 27;22(1):310. doi: 10.1186/s12903-022-02340-w.


Background: Globally, with the COVID-19 pandemic, dental services were limited to emergency/ urgent conditions and were provided only after tele-triage referral for face-to-face management. However, no previous research explored whether the pain severity (PS) drives the tele-triage decisions. The current study examined the association between PS and tele-triage decision of whether to manage the condition remotely or refer the caller for face-to-face management.

Methods: This retrospective cross-sectional study analyzed the PS reported by hotline callers, using numerical rating scale (NRS-11), during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdown (23 March-31 August 2020) and its association with tele-triage decision controlling for age, sex, history of chronic illness, and dental discipline needed. Binomial logistic regression assessed the association between the PS (exposure) and tele-triage decision (outcome). ANOVA compared PS across tele-triage categories, dental history and tentative diagnosis.

Results: PS was significantly associated with tele-triage decisions (p < 0.05). An increase in pain score by 1 unit was associated with 1.4 times increased odds of face-face referral (95% CI: 1.26-1.54). Pediatric/ adolescent patients (9-18 years) (odds ratio (OR) = 2.07; 95% CI: 1.07-4.02), history of chronic illness (OR = 2.12; 95% CI:1.28-3.51), need for surgical specialty (OR = 1.93; 95% CI: 1.22-3.04) and orthodontic specialty (OR = 7.02; 95% CI: 3.54-13.87) were independently associated with tele-triage decision. PS was highest for the emergency triage category (8.00 ± 2.83, P < 0.0001), dental history of tooth with cavity or filling (6.65 ± 2.024, P < 0.0001), and the tentative tele-diagnosis of cellulitis (7.75 ± 2.872, P < 0.0001).

Conclusions: During COVID-19 pandemic, tele-triage decisions were significantly influenced by patient-reported PS, adjusting for a range of variables. Despite this, referral for face-to-face management was individualized and driven by the tripartite considerations of the reported pain, clinical judgement, and the high transmission characteristics of COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Hotline; Orofacial pain; Telemedicine; Triage.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage*