Local news investigation reveals new crisis in dentistry across UK

A body that represents 40,000 dentists in the UK says the coronavirus pandemic has left the service facing an ‘existential crisis’.

A JPIMedia investigation has shown that, even before coronavirus, dentistry was facing unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts including issues with access, huge numbers of people going to A&E with dental problems and rocketing rates of mouth cancer.

But the situation is now substantially worse.

The British Dental Association reports that in the year to the end of August, 15 million appointments have been missed due to the pandemic while the service has only provided around a quarter of the treatments it would normally have done in pre-Covid times.

This means many more patients with untreated decay will end up requiring extensive and costly interventions as a result of limited access to dental services.

And more oral cancers — which kill more Britons every year than car accidents — will also go undetected as a result of the absence of routine check-ups.

While surgeries were facing difficulties before coronavirus, new safety procedures brought in during the pandemic have made their jobs much harder.

Dentists are now required to maintain windows between patients after any aerosol-generating procedure, such as the use of drills or scalers, to minimise risks of viral transmission, leading to a dramatic fall in patient numbers.

If this is to be reduced, practices will need to fit expensive mechanical ventilation, with the BDA calling on the Government to help surgeries pay for the necessary equipment.

The chair of the British Dental Association, Eddie Crouch, said it was clear that dentistry was now grappling with an “existential crisis”.

“Access problems that were common pre-Covid are now the norm in every community,” he said.

“Meanwhile, practices face a deeply uncertain future, as they try to balance tight restrictions, higher costs, and a collapse in patient numbers.

“The country saw what life was like without dentistry, and Ministers must turn the page. We need a clear plan to keep services afloat and for real investment in prevention.

“We cannot risk a ‘new normal’ of care for the few and widening oral health inequalities. The Government says the mantra is ‘build back better’. They must apply that logic to dentistry.”

The work is split into four broad themes:

  • Access and affordability
  • Mouth cancer rocketing
  • Dentists under strain
  • Vulnerable people slipping through the cracks

Harriet Clugston, acting JPIMedia data and investigations editor, said: “We all know the health service has come under enormous strain during the coronavirus crisis, but as the often forgotten arm of the NHS, the myriad problems facing dentistry often slip under the radar.

“The millions of appointments missed during the pandemic have compounded already pressing issues with access to care, rocketing rates of mouth cancer, and shocking numbers of dentists struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“Through a series of hard-hitting articles, data analysis, and personal testimonies, the JPIMedia investigation has exposed a system in decay, with dentists and patients suffering alike.”

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