Caution and delight - Norfolk dentists welcome review of restrictions
- Credit: Archant
A review to create a "road map" to ease infection controls hampering dentists has been met with support and calls for caution from Norfolk dentists.
The British Dental Association (BDA) said ongoing infection rules placed on dentists could have "serious consequences" on patient care as poor dental health is expected to have increased during the pandemic.
The letter to the UK's four chief dental officers raised significant concerns about delayed or missed cases of oral cancer and that an estimated 30 million appointments had been lost since last March in England.
Over the last 12 months, patients across Norfolk have felt frustration at the lack of access to dental care, with a Norwich antique dealer revealing he pulled out 18 of his own teeth as he searched for a dentist.
The BDA called a roadmap to ease restrictions, 12 months since face to face visits resumed on June 8 last year.
Norfolk's Local Dental Committee backed the calls, with a spokesman saying practices were forced under guidance to operate at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity.
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A committee spokesman said: "This reduction is to meet the pandemic infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance, it is not a decision of individual practices.
"It is vital that there is a review of new scientific literature and a full assessment of the wider conditions in the UK. This will enable a safe and efficient de-escalation founded on the best available evidence.
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"This change will take into account expert views of a safe yet sensible way for more dentistry to be provided to our local population.”
The BDA called for a review of the infection control guidance and of waiting room arrangements, which are also limiting the number of patients who can be seen.
Gautam Sharma, owner of West Earlham Practice, in Norwich, said he 100pc backed the calls for the review, after months of not being able to treat patients the way they were used to.
Dr Sharma said: "We bang on about regular check ups and getting people in, all of a sudden we shut for three months which has never happened, there is social distancing and we cannot safely see the volume of patients we did before and that causes problems.
"It's really painful - the work we love to do we cannot do to the same way we want to.
"Every practice is going to be different. Some practices have patients that are shielding or medically compromised, some will have staffing issues."
The BDA also stated there had been no super-spreading events linked to dentistry, questioning whether the heavy duty personal protective equipment (PPE) required for dental procedures is necessary.
Due to the high levels of PPE and "fallow time" - the time needed to separate appointments under the current rules - means that many dentists are struggling to see as many patients as they would like.
On Wednesday, the Chief Dental Officers committed to the review, saying it shared their profession's ambition for increasing access - but it needed to be done safely and effectively.
Meetal Patel, owner of Aylsham Dental Practice, said the practice continues to run at 20pc capacity and is still only seeing emergency appointments for the foreseeable future.
The practice also invested thousands of pounds to ensure patients only needed one appointment and to cut fallow time.
Dr Patel said: "In my opinion that is all well and good but there are Covid variants around and it is about keeping everybody safe and how do we keep ourselves safe.
"I would be very cautious trying to increase capacity.
"They can relax the measures but at the end of the day, we are a small team and it is about protecting my team."
BDA chair Eddie Crouch welcomed the chief officers' support to review procedures.
He said: "It's a year since face-to-face care resumed in England, but the restrictions we work to remain largely unchanged.
"The risk we face today from the virus needs to be balanced against the millions unable to access care, and threats to the very sustainability of this service.
"We know this issue is already high on the official agenda but patients and the profession deserve clarity on the way ahead."