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40% of dental surgeons lack protective kit to keep them safe

20 Apr 2020

Shortages of PPE equipment and a lack of access to testing are the two main concerns of dental surgeons, according to a survey of almost 200 dental surgeons conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons England (RCS)

Nearly two-thirds of dental surgeons surveyed had experienced shortages of PPE equipment in the last 30 days. More than 40% of them say they do not have an adequate supply of protective kit.

Seen in the context of the work that dental surgeons undertake – which potentially exposes them to higher risks of contracting Covid-19 – these findings show that availability of PPE is essential if emergency dental patients are to be treated.

Amidst the exceptional challenges that the healthcare sector is facing currently, the RCS survey also found that some 64% of dental surgeons do not believe that they would be able to get access to Covid-19 testing, to establish whether they have been infected. 21% of dental surgeons have already had to self-isolate after showing symptoms of Covid-19. 

Commenting on these findings, Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Dental surgeons, like other healthcare workers, must not be expected to work in unsafe conditions during this demanding time.

“We welcomed NHS England’s recent guidance to dentists which was clear about the need for appropriate long-sleeved protection when we undertake procedures which create ‘aerosol’ sprays.  But our survey shows access to PPE is already poor. 

“News of supply failures accompanied by new guidance on Friday, which implied that healthcare teams can work without proper PPE makes for a deeply disturbing picture. 

“It is critical that the right PPE is available to ensure that those who are in severe pain or suffering severe infection can still be treated by a dentist, and have their condition stabilised. 

“Dental surgeons want to care for and treat their patients and it is imperative that they are supported properly.”

Comments from dental surgeons and trainees

“A lack of PPE for dental colleagues in the primary care sector (dental) has prevented the urgent treatment centres from running - this will have the knock-on effect of an increase of patients attending the secondary care sector, or worse still, dental infections worsening to an extent they may result in preventable inpatient treatment, increased morbidity or mortality.”

Dental Surgeon – England

“We now have PPE but we are having great trouble securing training and fitting. That is our bottleneck.”

Dental Surgeon – England

“NHS organisations I work with have lowered the standard of PPE due to the shortage. Fit testing is not being carried out adequately at some sites. Surgical gowns are in short supply.”

Dental Surgeon – England

“I’ve worked closely with two colleagues in the last two weeks who have both had symptoms and tested positive for COVID19. Nothing has been done to keep us off work or in isolation despite knowing their positive results and knowing we may well also be affected and/or carrying the virus, potentially passing it to other staff while in work.

Trainee Dental Surgeon – Wales

“I contacted multiple centres regarding a test while I was symptomatic but was not given a test. Not knowing whether I have had COVID-19 is still a source of anxiety and apprehension. And if I become unwell again I will still have to re-isolate as I was not diagnosed during my initial period of isolation.”

Trainee Dental Surgeon – Wales

“Lack of information about testing from NHSE and from my Trust.  No safe way of working without testing. Also not safe for my high risk family members.”

Dental Surgeon – England



Notes to editors

  • The RCS survey fieldwork ran from 6 April 2020 – 9 April 2020. The survey was completed by 197 dental surgeons in the UK. Data tables available on request.
  • Key dental findings
  • 64% of dental surgeons (n=181) have experienced shortages of PPE equipment in their trust in the past 30 days 
  • 43% of dental surgeons (n=173) disagree that there is a supply of adequate PPE in their trust 
  • 21% of dental surgeons (n=187) have had to self-isolate during the COVID-19 crisis because they have shown symptoms
  • Over half (64%) of dental surgeons (n=165) believe that they would not be able to access a COVID-19 test for themselves if they needed one. 
  1. The RCS responded on Saturday to NHS England guidance which advised on alternatives to surgical gowns, saying it was ‘deeply disturbed’.
  2. The RCS responded to the NHS England guidance for dental profession during Covid-19, on 16 April 2020.;
  3. NHS England guidance to dentists is available at and
  4. RCS President, Professor Derek Alderson, has urged members not to risk exposing themselves to COVID-19 through inadequate personal protection.
  5. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
  6. For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.

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