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The Association of Dental Groups says that 13 million UK adults missed a dental appointment during the lockdown, and that 25% of all households attempted at least one form of DIY dentistry. (Image: OSORIOartist/Shutterstock)

Millions of missed appointments: UK dentistry feels heat from COVID-19

By Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International
October 01, 2020

NORTHAMPTON, UK: Since mid-June, dental clinics across the UK have faced a staggered resumption of elective dental care after the easing of a government-imposed lockdown. According to the Association of Dental Groups (ADG), UK dentists and other medical professionals now have an uphill battle to manage the negative impact that the lockdown has had on oral health.

According to the ADG, millions of UK residents were prevented from visiting a dentist during the lockdown period. The association, which represents dental groups and other providers of corporate dentistry in the UK, said in September that health professionals in the country could now expect a drastic increase in the rates of oral cancer. Additionally, as routine dental procedures resume, the ADG said that dentists and their teams needed to brace themselves for the grim results of what was a steep rise in do-it-yourself (DIY) dental procedures during the lockdown period.

A poll conducted by the ADG indicated that more than 13 million adults in the UK had missed, or preferred not to attend, dental appointments since the lockdown began on 24 March. The association arrived at this estimate after its survey results showed that nearly half (49%) of the UK’s 27.8 million households had a least one adult who had failed to attend an appointment.

The chair of the association, Neil Carmichael, commented in a 10 September press release: “The fact that so many people are either failing to get dental appointments or simply deciding against them is deeply alarming. It suggests that a whole host of oral health problems are being bottled up during lockdown and that dentists will be overwhelmed when routine appointments restart.”

Dentists are especially concerned about mouth cancer as routine check-ups are the key to early diagnosis,” he added. “If this is not happening and the early warning signs are not being detected then mouth cancer rates could soon go through the roof.”

Dentists worried about DIY procedures in the UK

The results of a second poll suggested concerning and widespread repercussions resulting from UK residents performing their own dental procedures. The ADG found that 25% of all UK households had attempted at least one form of DIY dentistry during the lockdown. Of the 25.0%, 12.7% (which equates to 3.5 million households) had administered their own painkillers for tooth or gingival pain, 7.9% of them had attempted to treat dental caries, and 7.6% of them had attempted to extract at least one tooth.

The ADG said in note to the press on 2 September that its findings would add to the mounting concerns of UK dentists.

These findings suggest that when routine appointments restart, dentists across the country should brace themselves for an oral health horror show,” Carmichael commented. “All of the signs are that dentists will be called upon to repair the damage caused by broken and knocked out teeth—on top of a host of other oral health problems that lockdown has been storing up.”

This would be bad enough if we did not already have an access crisis in dentistry with many people struggling to get appointments. Ministers must now take urgent action to ensure that we have the NHS dentists we need to deal with what’s around the corner.”

The ADG conducted the two polls as part of a campaign that calls on government ministers to address what it calls a crisis of access in UK dentistry.

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