Four in 10 dental surgeons say it will take at least a year to clear the backlog from Covid-19

07 September 2021
2 min read

A quarter (25 per cent) of respondents said that most patients on their waiting lists are children. 

Four in 10 (39 per cent) dental surgeons from the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) predict it will take at least a year to clear the backlog of patients waiting for dental care, in the wake of Covid-19. Nearly a third (29 per cent) of respondents in a survey of over 300 dental surgeons said it had been more difficult to recruit dental staff during the pandemic.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused enormous disruption to dentistry and continues to have major implications, due to the ongoing need for enhanced infection prevention. When the pandemic first struck in March 2020, all routine treatments like fillings and check-ups were suspended. Services only began to start up again later that summer. Now, the FDS has published a new report, “A resumption of dental services – one year on”, based on a survey of dental surgeons that explores how services are faring now. 

The FDS says the governments of all four UK nations should prioritise tackling long waits for dental surgery alongside other types of elective surgery and recommend a particular focus on the needs of dental patients who are children or vulnerable adults.

Mr Matthew Garrett, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said, “The good news is that, for the most part, dental services are back up and running. Eight in ten of our members told us they were back providing routine procedures, and the majority are providing emergency treatment. That said, the pandemic created a significant backlog of patients needing treatment, which will not be cleared anytime soon. Also worrying is that up to a quarter (25 per cent) of our members have told us most patients on their waiting lists are children. 

“Particular efforts must be made to ensure timely access to dental treatment for children and vulnerable adults, including those with special educational needs. We are concerned, for example, about the waiting times these groups of patients face for general anaesthetic procedures. 

“More widely, the Faculty would like to see governments in all four UK nations address the dentistry backlog as part of the recovery of elective surgery.”

The survey reports over half (54 per cent) of respondents saying the requirement to leave fallow time between patients, after finishing an aerosol generating procedure, is a barrier to seeing more patients. Social distancing requirements (49 per cent), limited availability of surgery or theatre space (30 per cent), inadequate ventilation (28 per cent) and staff shortages (25 per cent) were also cited by significant numbers of respondents. 

Matthew added, “Dental surgeons are supportive of measures in place to protect patients while we continue to battle Covid-19. However, requirements around fallow time in dental settings must be kept under review, because these are still the main barrier to dentists seeing more patients. Settings must also be supported to improve ventilation, particularly in England. We welcome funding commitments that have already been made in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.”  

The report highlights the need to prioritise the health and wellbeing of everyone working in dentistry. Nearly a third (29 per cent) of survey respondents said it had been more difficult to recruit dental staff during the pandemic. It also warns that a significant proportion of dental staff are considering leaving the profession in the next few years, with one in six (18 per cent) respondents saying that they intended to retire in the next five years, and one in 10 (10 per cent) planning to leave the profession during the same period, even though they will not have reached retirement age.

The FDS says given the delays in accessing dental care that will be experienced over the next few years, prevention should remain a core focus within health policy across all four UK nations. The UK Government’s commitments to restrict junk food advertising, extend community water fluoridation initiatives, expand the provision of supervised tooth brushing schemes in England and update the School Food Standards must be delivered in full.