Left in agony, those in Cambridgeshire in need of urgent dental treatment but who do they turn to?
- Credit: Archant
Lack of dental emergency help during COVID-19 is now so critical people are attempting self-extractions of their teeth.
With all NHS dental surgeries closed, people with extreme toothache are desperate for a remedy and are even considering self-extraction as a last resort.
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), the body that represents dentists, practices have been inundated with daily calls from distressed and increasingly desperate patients.
Two weeks ago, the government announced that NHS England had set out plans to create 160 Urgent Dental Centres (UDC’s) across the nation in response to the thousands of patients needing urgent dental treatment who have been left in limbo.
But in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough not one of the expected UDC’s is yet open.
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In Cambridgeshire there is just one private practice open offering emergency dental care – Cambridge Dental Hub – but as a private practice they charge for the work they do and patient acceptance is on a case-by-case basis with only those with the most acute needs being accepted.
All NHS and private dental practices have the equipment they need to carry out emergency dental care, but dental drills create an aerosol spray that can easily spread the coronavirus.
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Therefore, dentists and dental staff without the correct PPE cannot be expected to work in an environment where they are especially vulnerable working face-to-face.
More than half the dentists in Britain have said that the lack of PPE is keeping them at home, and instead they’ve been issuing prescription after prescription for anti-biotics, temporary tooth filling kits and pain-killers as there’s nothing else they can do.
Some patients with chronic tooth pain are getting so desperate they’ve even resorted to self-extraction like aircraft fitter, Billy Taylor did when he got an abscess: “I phoned 111 but they told me unless it was affecting my breathing there was nothing they could do for me.
“I was told I’d be put on an emergency waiting list but there was no indication of how long it would take before I could be seen, or something done.
“The pain was excruciating so I got an ice-pack, put it on my face until it was completely numb and then my son helped me try to get it out.
“It took an hour and a half of pulling, but with a final huge tug the tooth came out”.
Chief Dental Officer for England, Sara Hurley said: “PPE is on its way to the UDCs and the network of 200 UDCs is now up and running”.
But dentists up and down the country have said they find that information very misleading, saying there’s no urgent dental centre in their region, and this includes Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
With every NHS dental surgery (and most private dental clinics) closed since March 20, what happens to people who need emergency dental treatment?
Government guidelines offer very little help or advice: if patients have chronic tooth pain they cannot call ‘111’ as they’ll be advised to refer the matter to their own dental surgery … which will be closed of course.
Patients can’t go to ‘A&E’ either, because they’re inundated with other matters and besides, Accident and Emergency Departments at hospitals don’t treat dental emergencies so they too will refer patients back to their own dental surgery… all of which are closed of course.
NHS England said it is providing the UDC’s as fast as it possibly can to treat patients who need urgent medical help for problems such as abscesses.
But the BDA said the vast majority aren’t operating yet, and those that have been opened are mostly in London and the south. They say that lack of PPE for dentists and dental staff is to blame.
The NHS disputes the BDA’s claims and says that 50 of the UDC’s are already open, with a further seven expected this week.
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