18 Jul Coronavirus: Dentists warn of looming dental and mouth cancer crisis after months of lockdown measures | UK News
Dentists are warning of a looming dental and mouth cancer crisis after months of delays and patients being unable to get check-ups and repair work.
It comes as surgeries begin to reopen more widely but dentists are still facing significant restrictions on how they can operate, with rooms having to be vacated for an hour after any treatment is done using a drill.
For Maezama Malik, who is the principal dentist of her surgery in Croydon, south London, this has caused a big backlog of patients.
She said the biggest worry is that a patient might have “something minor that could progress in a few months” without them seeing a dentist.
Mrs Malik said: “We’ve had treatment plans that were open before lockdown and patients were waiting to have their crowns fitted, their dentures fitted.
“The good news is that we can do those dentures, we can do the treatments that don’t require the aerosol.
“So I’m doing my best to get patients in but there’s always that fear that we could go back again to a second wave.”
Mrs Malik said her patients have been grinding their teeth from stress and snacking more while working from home, in addition to missing out on check-ups and smaller preventative dental work which may have led to tooth decay spreading.
“There has been a general consensus in relation to people’s health that things have gone unchecked and people are going to come out worse off,” she said.
“And that’s a concern for us as dentists – we have to deal with the deluge where patients have had a three-month hiatus and they haven’t had their regular check ups and their hygiene appointments, and the things that could be spotted early.
“But we’re prepared for that, we’re doing everything we can to get patients in and to work through the backlog.”
This is one of the many concerns for the British Dental Association, whose vice chair Eddie Crouch told Sky News that a lack of check-ups also means missed opportunities to catch the early stages of mouth cancer.
He said: “If people have got ulcers in their mouth that are not going away, really, they should insist on seeing a dentist face to face, that is available at most high street dental practices now because it doesn’t involve generating a spray or an aerosol to actually just look at an ulcer in someone’s mouth.
“If they’re not picked up early, then my real worry is that the long-term success of treatment for these patients is going to be severely hampered.”
Getting the right personal protective equipment (PPE) and the process of sourcing respirator masks has also been a challenge.
Mr Crouch told Sky News access to PPE has been tricky for dentists and there is concern around the abilities of surgeries to restock, with inflation making the equipment almost prohibitively expensive.
But Mr Crouch said “the biggest challenge” has been the “lack of science”.
“The science is in sort of a lag behind the virus itself and therefore we’re dealing with a very risk-averse process at the moment,” he said.
The Department of Health and Social Care says it has “taken action” to “support patients and businesses”.
A spokesperson from the department said: “NHS England and Improvement have also put robust arrangements in place to ensure patients can continue to access NHS dental treatment.
“Over 600 NHS urgent dental care centres continue to treat patients in need until dental practices can safely offer a wider range of services.
“Cancer patients have continued to be treated as priority, with urgent and essential tests and treatments going ahead in a safe way for thousands of patients. Anyone who has concerns about their oral health, should contact their practice or NHS 111 for support.”