It's tempting to think that dentists rarely get good press coverage - that the profession is seen by journalists as a begrudged and malignant necessity and a very easy scapegoat. That may not be the case, according to a study of recent dental coverage in six national newspapers, published recently in the BDJ.
The authors of Dentistry, the press, and a pandemic looked at the cycle of dentistry themes covered in The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Mail/Mail online, The Sun, The Mirror and Metro in the early stages of lockdown, including the reopening of dental practices and the introduction of the tiered system. Personal protective equipment was identified as a hot topic at the start of the pandemic due to rising costs and a lack of availability.
Appointment restrictions were also discussed, when practices were told to start re‐opening as the British Dental Association (BDA), and individual dentists, issued the stark warning across media platforms, that patients could not reasonably expect a full service and routine appointments for some time.
Matthew Sedgwick and Deborah Krishnapillai, from the oral and maxillofacial surgery department of John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, found that the quality of information being reported was generally helpful and positive towards the dental profession. They also noted that organisations, especially the BDA, were very actively involved in discussions with journalists: oral health advice was discussed frequently, as well as the difficulties the profession was facing.
Commenting on the BDJ study, Eddie Crouch, BDA chair, said, “We agree with the authors that it’s important to work with the media and challenge them if they publish inaccurate or misleading stories.
“The BDA’s press team, together with a host of our spokespeople across the UK and myself, have worked flat out at every stage of the pandemic to explain the devastating impact it has had on dentistry, from the dentists’ perspective, as well as the repercussions for our patients. It's amazing to realise that there have been more than 30 million dental appointments lost in England alone since the start of the first lockdown, and it's encouraging to see the press understanding how important this is as a health issue.
“We explained how infection prevention measures restricted access to dentistry and said, repeatedly, that it was safe to see the dentist: it wasn't going to be business as usual, but the dentist was still going to have, as a primary concern, the well-being of the patient. We highlighted that access problems pre-dated the pandemic, because of the long and troubled history of underfunding of NHS dentistry and we showed the press how this has accelerated oral health inequalities. We also publicised that dentists relying on private work had been worst hit by the pandemic when practices were compelled to close; we pressed the chancellor to remove the £50,000 profit cap on eligibility for self-employed income support scheme and argued vociferously that dental practices should not be excluded from business rates retail discount.
“Obviously the quality of news coverage is more important than the quantity but I am proud of the fact that we managed to secure nearly 4000 mentions in internet coverage this past year, and nearly 1500 mentions in broadcast coverage, which includes the BBC.
“One of the benefits of securing such coverage is that it helped in the process of agreeing a consensus with Healthwatch that investment is needed to improve access, together with the promised reform of NHS dentistry to reverse a decade of cuts. This also helped our engagement with politicians and to shape well publicised dental debates in parliament.”