A crisis has been building in the dental sector in Northern Ireland over many years but the Covid pandemic finally pushed it over the edge. Last week, the British Dental Association appeared before Stormont’s Health Committee to plead for action in the face of a grave threat hanging over the provision of dental services. Absolutely nothing was done until today when a last minute, u-turn was forced from Minister Robin Swann under mounting pressure from political representatives like myself and adverse media coverage.
Today’s decision means that none of the five Covid Emergency Dental Treatment Centres will close as planned next Monday; instead they will remain open until the end of August. It averts the immediate threat that dental services will be denied patients but the potential and even likelihood of a grave crisis remains high.
Aerosol generating procedures
Opened at the start of the Covid lockdown, emergency dental treatment centres provided access to what are known as ‘aerosol generating procedures’ (AGPs), which include such minor procedures such as drilling for fillings or even teeth cleansing. AGPs result liquid spraying in the air and particularly increase the rise of viral transmission. As a result practitioners and staff have to wear respirator units and higher grade PPE than are standard.
Dental practices which have reopened in recent weeks have not been allowed to conduct AGPs but they were set to take on this workload when the emergency dental treatment centres closed.
Unfortunately they were nowhere near a position to do so; the Health Department indicated several weeks ago that it was unable to obtain the higher grade PPE required by dentists to safely conduct AGPs. Each practice was left to individually source its own supplies. To add even more to the chaos, dentists were not even able to secure face-fitting to practitioners and staff members – required for the safe operation of PPEs – because of the small numbers of fitting specialists in the region and the huge demand for their services right now.
The result of these factors was that it will be many weeks – potentially months before most dentists will be able to safely drill or provide fillings – and that was assuming they could obtain the needed PPE once they were fitted. The BDA estimates that more than 90 percent of dentists in Northern Ireland will not have properly face-fitted PPE in place for Monday’s reopening.Continue reading “Covid crisis of dentistry shows NHS model needed for dental health”