Q&A: What you need to know about dentists reopening next month

As it is far more difficult to take a trip to the dentist or hygienist during lockdown, looking afte

As it is far more difficult to take a trip to the dentist or hygienist during lockdown, looking after your teeth is even more important than ever. Picture: Harbucks - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dental practices across the region will be allowed to reopen to patients from next month.

Sara Hurley, the chief dental officer for England, has announced that from June 8, dentists will be able to see patients again, having closed their surgeries towards the end of March.

However, it may not immediately see routine work carried out, with dentists set to prioritise patients in need of emergency work, such as tooth removals.

A number of dental workers have helped give a clearer view on what dental practices will look like in the immediate future.

• What will happen on June 8?

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Hannah Woolnough, a general dentist from Ipswich, said: “The phone has been running off the hook because people want to book in their check-ups for June 8.

“We’re not going to be doing check-ups on June 8, we might be taking a couple of teeth out for patients that really need extractions, because they’ve been in pain for weeks, but we’re not going to be doing routine care.”

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• When will routine services resume?

Dentists have said it will take at least several months for routine check-ups and cleanings to resume - though there are a number of factors.

Dr Woolnough said: “It depends who you are. If you’re a very healthy 25-year-old [for example] we’ll probably start doing routine care for those patients before 88-year-olds with complex medical history.

“The vulnerable patients will probably remain urgent care only.

“We have a backlog of people who have problems that need fixing before we can start worrying about check-ups and scale and polish. Everything is going to take much, much longer than it did in the past.”

• What will socially distanced dentistry look like?

To allow social distancing to be observed, there will be a drastic reduction in the number of patients per day dentists see - to prevent busy waiting rooms. This will also allow for cleaning to be done in between appointments.

Dave Cottom, a mixed practice dentist from Birmingham, said: “Instead of seeing 20 to 30 patients a day, we’re only going to be able to see around six, seven or eight maximum.

“Once you’ve seen a patient the downtime will make the surgery environment safe will take at least half an hour.”

Another dentist, Ben Atkins, said some dentists may mark out 2m gaps on the floor in tape and ask patients to wash their hands as they enter the surgery.

He said: “It’ll still be dentistry. I don’t think there is going to be a huge difference that the patient should perceive expect that you may be asked to stay in your car rather than come into a busy waiting room.”

• What are the risks of missing my check-up?

Dr Woolnough said delaying the regular check-ups of patients with good oral hygiene and low-sugar diets would not be a problem.

She continued: “But if we’re leaving disease there, that will progress. Patients who have got decay in their teeth, the longer it’s left the bigger the hole will be.

“We often see patients who historically have been told they need a filling and they don’t come back for it, they come back two years later and they end up having to have the tooth taken out.

“At the moment we’re only talking a few months, so we shouldn’t be seeing huge issues with this, those teeth that will need to be taken out were probably not far off it anyway.

“But it depends how long it goes on for and what the access is like when things reopen.

“It could be that lower priority patients, like someone who needs a filling, could end up delayed by six months by the time we get to it, in which case that could be significantly worse.”

• What else will change?

Mr Cottam added that private patients were “100% likely” to see an increase in their dental fees, due to the length of appointments and required equipment.

Both Dr Atkins and Mr Cottam, who is also chairman of the General Dental Practice Committee of the BDA, said the pandemic will increase the number of telephone and video consultations and provide a significant opportunity to improve dentistry.

Mr Cottam said: “The time it’s going to take probably to reduce our emergencies could easily take three to six months, but the new norm, working in the future, will be nothing similar to what we’ve been doing in the past.

“There are a lot of opportunities here to get a much better outcome-based service that’s fit for purpose for the modern world really.”

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