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Research reveals the urgent need to grow access to dentistry

Unprecedented levels of decay and periodontal disease, dental health neglect, lockdown overindulgence and life-threatening diagnoses missed – these are just some of the predictions for the UK’s dental health from professionals on the front line if access to affordable care isn’t increased.

A survey of {my}dentist’s clinicians across more than 600 dental practices, carried out during lockdown, revealed 96 per cent of dentists, therapists and hygienists believe lockdown has had an adverse impact on the nation’s oral health and that greater access to affordable dental care is needed.

{my}dentist, the country’s largest provider of affordable and NHS dental care, is calling for an urgent review of access to dentistry in response to the challenges.

Eighty-eight per cent of those surveyed believed the UK’s dental health could decline because of a lack of routine appointments leading to preventative dental issues worsening. And a further 77 per cent are especially worried that oral cancers will be missed and not referred. Sixty per cent of the clinicians asked also believe that some patients could put off going to the dentist to treat minor symptoms, such as toothache and bleeding gums, leading to larger problems in the longer-term. 

But it’s not just a lack of access to dental practices during lockdown that dentists fear will leave a lasting impact on the nation’s health. Seventy-eight per cent of {my}dentist clinicians worry about the impact on oral and dental health of lockdown comfort eating and over-indulgence in alcohol, sweets, snacks and sugary drinks.

As clinicians return to practice, they are bracing themselves for more caries, periodontal disease and trauma. Seventy per cent of dental professionals believe treatment for children with caries will be the most common reason for a visit to practice post-lockdown.

While 69 per cent of clinicians predict an influx of adults looking for treatment to cope with periodontal disease and 58 per cent believe treatment for trauma caused by broken or knocked out teeth will be one of the main reasons adults return to their practice.

Overall, 41 per cent of clinicians believe it will take between a year and 18-months for the UK’s oral health to return to ‘normal’ after the Covid-19 crisis. And a further 12 per cent predict it will take at least two years for the nations dental health to recover from lockdown. Without the right decisions, including ensuring there are enough dentists able to practise in the UK, it may take longer still.

Even before the pandemic, more than 50 per cent of all dental practices across the UK were closed to new NHS patients, with more than 75 per cent reporting difficulties in recruiting enough dentists to meet demand.

Nyree Whitley, group clinical director at {my}dentist commented, “Temporarily suspending routine dentistry during the pandemic was absolutely the right thing to do to protect patients and colleagues and to help stop the spread of the virus. But it came at a cost and it will be felt by both the profession and patients for several years to come.

“As our research shows we’ve got a long journey ahead of us, particularly since access to affordable dentistry was limited before the pandemic. We’ve worked hard to reopen as quickly and as safely as possible to help get the nation’s dental health back on track, but we need an urgent review of access to dentistry to ensure no patient misses out.”

For more information visit www.mydentist.co.uk