Dental leaders commit to review of infection control rules amid backlog concerns

Dental leaders have committed to reviewing infection control rules which could help increase access to dentists.

The announcement came after dentists warned that the current rules could have “serious consequences” for patient care.

Dentists have said that the number of appointments they can offer patients is being hampered by the stringent requirements for infection control in dental practices implemented early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 8, 2020
A dentist prepares for an aerosol-generating procedure wearing full PPE (Victoria Jones/PA)

In a letter to the UK chief dental officers, the British Dental Association (BDA) called for a review of current guidance.

In a joint statement, they replied: “All four UK chief dental officers share their profession’s ambition for increasing access which needs to be done safely and effectively, which is why there is now going to be a further review of the UK-wide infection control guidance in the light of the current science and prevalence.”

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: “This looks like welcome progress.

“Restrictions have left millions struggling to secure care, and thousands of frontline staff looking for the exit.

“We need to see a timely, comprehensive review that acknowledges the specific issues facing dentistry.

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“It must assess the need for continuing with policies that have halved access to our services.”

In its earlier correspondence, shared with the PA news agency, the BDA said that poor dental health was expected to have increased during the crisis.

The letter raised significant concerns about delayed or missed cases of oral cancer due to delays to dental care.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 30 million dental appointments had been missed in England alone, the BDA said.

But while dentists tried to tackle the significant backlog, they were being hampered by infection control guidance, they said.

The letter stated that high levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) and “fallow time” – the time needed to separate appointments under the current rules – meant that many dentists were struggling to see as many patients as they would like.

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There had been no super-spreading events linked to dentistry, and experts were questioning whether the heavy-duty PPE required for dental procedures was necessary, the letter added.

It comes after a damning report by Healthwatch England, shared with PA, which highlighted the struggles that patients face when trying to book an NHS dentist appointment.

Some people had been told to wait for three years for an appointment, while others were being removed from their practice lists for not making appointments sooner, according to the report.