10,000 people call for dentist appointment in single month during lockdown

Dental care referrals in the West Midlands have rocketed to their highest ever level during the coronavirus pandemic – with more than than 10,000 calling the NHS for treatment in just one month.

Dentist referrals rose during the coronavirus pandemic
Dentist referrals rose during the coronavirus pandemic

NHS England data shows that in April 10,292 callers from the region were told to seek help at an emergency dental hub after calling NHS 111.

It is two and a half times greater than the number of referrals in March, and the highest monthly tally since records were first collected in July 2017.

In the West Midlands, one in 10 of all calls to NHS 111 which resulted in people being advised for treatment involved a dental issue.

The vast majority of dentists in England closed their doors when the lockdown was announced, with only around 400 allowed to remain open as urgent care hubs.

No date has yet been set for practices to reopen.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has warned that the blanket closures had left patients "in pain with nowhere to go".

The union also said those practices that had remained open were seeing less than a quarter of the patients they did before the pandemic, with many people believed to be staying away due to fear on contracting Covid-19.

BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said that without support many dentists may not survive the crisis.

"In England routine care was shut down while an urgent care network was still on the drawing board," he said. "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."

The BDA said recent surveys have shown that around 70 per cent of practice owners are financially sustainable for three months or less, and will only be able to treat significantly reduced numbers when they do re-open because of social distancing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs that reopening dental 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."

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