'Some patients could wait until next year for a check-up' Edinburgh's growing dental crisis

Some patients in Edinburgh will be waiting until next year for a dental check-up, dentists warned today, amid a growing backlog of cases as surgeries are forced to continue operating reduced services.

By Jolene Campbell
Monday, 19th July 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Monday, 19th July 2021, 5:55 pm
Dentists warned of growing crisis in patient care
Dentists warned of growing crisis in patient care

Lorna Burns from Haymarket Dental Care has called for a review to allow full dental services to get back up and running as she claims that “unnecessary” covid-19 restrictions are causing significant waiting times for patients.

It comes after the Chief Dental Officer (CDO) wrote to practices in Scotland, which are still operating at reduced capacity, stating current restrictions will remain in place until September when updated guidance is expected to be published.

In the letter dated July 8 its acknowledged that there is a ‘backlog of unment need’ but dental chiefs stressed the importance of ‘proportionate but safe’ guidance.

Ms Burns said the situation in the capital requires urgent action as 'virtually nowhere' is accepting new NHS patients while emergency services are stretched beyond capacity.

The British Dental Association has backed concerns about the impact on thousands waiting to access treatment, including risk of missed cases or delayed diagnoses of oral cancers. It also warned the service is ‘at a crossroads’.

Last month the Evening News revealed that residents from Edinburgh and the Lothians are waiting up to six months for routine dental care on the NHS, while people face struggle to register as an NHS patient with a new practice.

While Scotland moved to level zero on Monday dental practices are still required to meet strict infection control protocols, which requires full PPE and "fallow time" of ten to twenty minutes between appointments.

Ms Burns said: "Virtually nowhere in Edinburgh is taking on new NHS patients. We are doing just two days a week at my practice. While other sectors get free reign. We need decision makers to realise the long term impact. Patients can't get a check up for months, some could wait until the new year.

"We are severely limited and need to get back to normal. There's very little patient care. It's unnecessary now with many vaccinated. This can’t be allowed to drag on. One of my patients went to out of hours clinic and was given antibiotics without consultation. Emergency services can’t cope. They are stretched beyond capacity.”

Data from Public Health Scotland showed that between April and November 2020, the number of NHS courses of treatment delivered was 83 per cent lower than the same period in 2019.

A spokesperson for the British Dental Association said: “We are concerned that we're a long, long way from routine examinations. Dentists are still only seeing emergency cases. It doesn't offer much hope for the thousands who are struggling to access care, and oral health inequalities going from bad to worse.

"The service was in crisis long before covid but is now at a crossroads. The risk we face today from the virus needs to be balanced against the thousands unable to access care, and threatens the very sustainability of the service.

“Teeth is the only tissue in the human body that doesn’t repair itself, if you have a problem, then it needs timely fixing. Those with restored mouths or gum disease will only get worse without intervention.

"Practitioners play a key role in detecting early signs of oral cancer, when patients aren’t necessarily aware of problems. Reduced access to services is likely to impact on missed cases or delayed diagnosis, leading to a poorer prognosis for patients.”

"We're also seeing the impact of the suspension of dental public health programmes, poor lockdown diets and altered oral hygiene habits. The demand for dental services and the number of high-needs patients are therefore likely to be greater than before the pandemic."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The dental sector has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Pre-COVID levels of patient volume is currently not achievable with physical distancing and other health protection measures in place. NHS dental teams continue to exercise clinical judgement and patients will be prioritised on need to access treatment, as we start to address the backlog of patients.

“The overwhelming majority of dental practices are seeing as many patients as possible within the current constraints.

"We are providing emergency funding support to the sector, have increased the amount of free PPE by 50 per cent from 1 July, and announced new funding of £5m to support improved ventilation.”

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