Patients face 'awful long wait' for appointments, says Norfolk dentist

Staff at Aylsham Dental Practice treating a patient in full PPE.

Staff at Aylsham Dental Practice treating a patient in full PPE. - Credit: Aylsham Dental Practice

Patients could be waiting an "awfully long time" for routine dental appointments, according to one practice owner.

Meetal Patel, of Aylsham Dental Practice, said capacity is 20pc of what it was before the pandemic despite looking at ways to bring family bubbles in for appointments and investing in technology to reduce a patient's number of visits.

Pre-pandemic, the practice would have been able to see 80 patients in a day but due to aerosols created during the procedure, practices must allow time for the particles to dissipate, by leaving the room empty for up to 50 minutes.

When the first lockdown came into force last March, dentists were told to cancel all appointments except for emergencies. 

Since reopening in June, the practice's diary fills up on a "week-by-week basis" with no possibility of taking on new patients or upholding routine appointments.

He said  "All routine appointments have been cancelled since March 2020 so we can take care of people suffering from dental pain."

For the last month, the practice has begun trying to bring in some of the 1,000 registered families in their bubbles.

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Mr Patel said; "I would say we have seen 10 families so far, but we have 1,000 families.

"It's not going to go back to what it was pre-pandemic for an awfully long time."

The practice has spent thousands of pounds on safety measures and invested in new technology to allow patients to have same day crowns and bridges, something Mr Patel said only one per cent of practices in the UK offer.

He added: "This reduces multiple visits to us and provides a more efficient service for patients."

In addition while patients wait for appointments, he said it was important they were proactive with their oral healthcare.

He said: "If something concerns you, tell us about it, send a picture and we will take a look at it. We will tell people to watch for these signs and if they have concerns to let us know."

Healthwatch Norfolk, which gathers patients' views, they have had 50 inquiries across January and February, mostly from people around the difficulty to register with NHS practices in Norfolk.

A spokesman said: "Even prior to the pandemic the situation in Norfolk was becoming critical, but now we are not currently aware of any practices taking on new patients.

"We fully understand the intense pressure that many NHS dentists are under, which has only been exacerbated COVID-19. However, demand for NHS dentists seems to be outstripping supply, putting many people’s oral health risk.

"Dental care will remain high on our list of priorities throughout 2021."