Agony for thousands as dentists stay shut in lockdown and what to do if you're in pain
Thousands of callers to NHS 111 in the North West required dental treatment last month as dentists remain closed from the coronavirus lockdown.
With routine care suspended since March 25 because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the British Dental Association said the Government's response has left patients waiting in pain and dentists without adequate PPE.
No date has yet been given for the re-opening of dental practices across England, with only a few hundred acting as urgent care hubs in their place.
NHS England data shows 4,355 callers in April were recommended to seek help at one of these hubs by the North West 111 service.
This is the highest monthly tally for dental care referrals since such records were first collected, in July 2017.
It is also more than double the 1,735 in March, and 22 per cent more than the same month last year.
With all routine dentistry stopped for almost two months, around 400 urgent dental care hubs have been operating across the country in response.
More than 80,000 NHS 111 users across England were recommended dental help from the service in April alone – more than double that of the month before.
However, the British Dental Association said practices providing urgent care are currently seeing less than a quarter of the patients they did before the pandemic.
BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said: "In England routine care was shut down while an urgent care network was still on the drawing board. We are now seeing the results.
"Officials have found you cannot shut down a system that treats over 30 million people a year, without putting anything adequate in its place.
"Sadly, the pace left patients in pain with nowhere to go, while dentists waited weeks on PPE deliveries in empty clinics.
"Government failure to support dentistry through the pandemic means many patients may not have practices to come back to."
The BDA said recent surveys have shown over 70 per cent of practice owners are financially sustainable for just three months or less, and will only be able to treat drastically reduced numbers when they do re-open because of social distancing.
NHS 111 services across England took 1.7 million calls in April, with seven per cent of triaged calls being advised to see a dentist.
In the North West, this was the case for four per cent of calls.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously told MPs that reopening dentists practices has to be done in a safe way, particularly over the use of aerosols.
He said: "Dentistry by its nature requires close contact, and it can be an aerosol-generating procedure in certain circumstances, which makes it a higher risk to the dental practitioner – the dentist or nurse – and, in turn, to future patients, so we have to get this right.
"Emergency dentistry is available in dentistry hubs, which have been set up during the crisis. It is important to get this right, but it is also important to get dentistry back on its feet."