New Covid-19 dental research indicates system being overstretched

09 June 2022
2 min read

New research, published recently by the General Dental Council (GDC), into the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on the dental sector has found profound challenges persist for both professionals and patients. The reports highlight increased patient demand but that dental services were struggling to meet that demand with rising waiting lists reported by professionals.

Among dental professionals, the GDC found a significant shift from NHS to private work, borne out by recent data indicating 3,000 dentists have left NHS work since the onset of the pandemic. Around two-in-five (39 per cent) of dental professionals foresaw they would be delivering more treatments in private dental care in October 2022 than prior to March 2020. This opinion was more common among dentists than other members of the dental team.

There were some signs of resilience across dentistry however, with professionals remaining confident in their ability to operate safely and fewer patients reporting they had coronavirus concerns that would affect their decision to visit the dentist. 

The research, which builds on work carried out in 2020, also found health inequalities continue to be made worse by the pandemic, with more young people and those from Asian and Black ethnic backgrounds reporting the greatest difficulties in accessing services. It also saw dental professionals reporting increased stress; the mean average anxiety score among UK dentists was reported as 6.0. This is almost twice the average UK anxiety score in 2020/21 of 3.31. The research also noted increasing impatience and aggression from patients.

Stefan Czerniawski, GDC executive director, said “Dental professionals continue to rise to the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic, but these findings point towards a system being overstretched. Many of the most pressing and wide-reaching challenges highlighted in this research, such as access to services, health inequalities and pressure on professionals, will require attention and effort from everyone right across dentistry. While some of these are areas outside of the GDC’s direct control, we will use this evidence to inform all our work and share the insights with our partners to support those broader efforts to address these problems.”

Last month the British Dental Association (BDA) attempted to address these issues by stressing to the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that without radical action to reform the discredited target-driven contract driving the exodus from the NHS the service faces a ‘slow death’.  The professional body has called on government to deliver meaningful change by April of next year and put in place necessary funding to underpin the rebuild of the service.

Eddie Crouch, chair of the BDA said, “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on both patients and the dental profession, supercharging a crisis we’ve faced for a generation. The real question now is what this government is willing to do about it.

“Practices are struggling to meet demand, while every day dejected NHS dentists are calling it quits. Deep inequalities are set to widen unless ministers commit to fixing this forgotten corner of our health service.”