A resumption of dental services – one year on
COVID-19 has caused considerable disruption within dentistry and continues to have major implications for dental practice and patients. When the pandemic first struck routine treatment was suspended in all four UK nations, before resuming in summer 2020.
To understand how recovery of dental services has progressed since then, and the challenges dental professionals are still facing, the Faculty surveyed over 300 its members during the summer of 2021 and received responses from across the UK.
The results are presented in our recent report, A resumption of dental services – one year on. The key findings include:
- Four in ten dental surgeons (39%) anticipate it will take over a year to clear the backlog of patients waiting for treatment. One in five (19%) expect it to take at least two years.
- A quarter (25%) of our members said that the majority of patients on their waiting lists were children – these figures were particularly high in specialities such as orthodontics and paediatric dentistry.
- Over half (54%) of respondents said that the requirement to leave fallow time between patients after finishing an aerosol generating procedure was a barrier to seeing more patients. Social distancing requirements (49%), limited availability of surgery or theatre space (30%), inadequate ventilation (28%) and staff shortages (25%) were also cited by significant numbers of respondents.
- 29% of those who responded to our survey say they plan to reduce the number of sessions they work over the next five years. One in six (18%) plan to retire during this period, and one in ten (10%) intend to leave the profession before reaching retirement age.
- There were high levels of support amongst our members for a range of preventative measures for improving oral health, including limiting the availability of sugary food and drink in schools (90%), delivering supervised tooth brushing schemes in nurseries and primary schools (82%), expanding community water fluoridation initiatives (82%), and restricting advertisements for high sugar products on TV (77%) and online (72%).
- The governments of all four UK nations should prioritise tackling backlogs and long waits in dental care alongside those in elective surgery, and ensure that there is a clear focus on the needs of dental patients during service recovery.
- Particular efforts must be made to ensure timely access to dental treatment for children and vulnerable adults, including those with special educational needs. It is vital that the waiting times for these patients are addressed.
- Requirements around fallow times in dental settings should be kept under constant review, as for many dental professionals these represent the main barrier to seeing more patients. Settings must also be supported to improve ventilation, building on welcome funding commitments that have already been made in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- The health and wellbeing of the dental workforce must be a priority for everyone working in dentistry. Support is needed for those considering leaving the profession, as well as for dentists at an early stage of their career whose development has been disrupted by the pandemic.
- Prevention should remain a core focus within health policy across all four UK nations. The UK government’s commitments to restrict junk food advertising, extend community water fluoridation initiatives, expand the provision of supervised tooth brushing schemes in England and update the School Food Standards must be delivered in full.
A resumption of dental services? (2020)
In late March 2020, dentistry was reorganised, along with other NHS primary care services, to minimise face-to-face care to contain the spread of COVID-19 during the peak of the pandemic. Dentists were asked to suspend all routine treatment and instead offer urgent advice and remotely prescribe antibiotics as required.
Urgent treatment was made available through regional NHS urgent dental centres – around 550 were open in late May. Triaging patients into these centres through NHS 111 or through the patients’ own dentist became the default approach to delivering care, and indeed was the only route for patients to seek face-to-face treatment before the resumption of routine services began.
We wanted to establish how far that resumption had gone including whether our fellows and members were back to delivering the full range of dental provision, how many patients they were seeing, and whether they felt safe at work. You can find key recommendations and findings from the full report of our survey which we published in 2020.