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BELFAST, UK: Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, dental services worldwide have been disrupted for over a year. A recent report by the Health and Social Care Business Services Organisation (Northern Ireland) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency collected information on dental services in Northern Ireland between April 2020 and March 2021 and found that treatment activity had declined significantly. As a result, the British Dental Association Northern Ireland (BDA NI) is calling on policymakers to make oral health a higher priority.
The report shows that the number of dental treatments carried out fell considerably. In 2020/2021 approximately 51,000 children received dental treatment exceeding basic care, which is a decrease of 57% in comparison with the previous period. Similarly, 290,000 adults received treatment in 2020/2021, 60% fewer than in 2019/2020. The total number of patients seen in a 12-month period in pre-pandemic times was around one million. This dropped to roughly 430,000 in the period from April 2020 to March 2021.
According to BDA NI, oral health inequalities will increase as a result of the pandemic, owing to the ongoing disruption of dental services, suspension of public health programmes and the impact of lockdown diets. In addition, Northern Ireland has traditionally ranked worst in the UK when it comes to oral health, and only about a fifth (19%) of 15-year-old children are considered to have good oral health.
Dr Richard Graham, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee commented on the current situation in a press release issued by the association: “A service long teetering is now broken, and will require nothing less than a full rebuild if it’s ever going to meet demand from the hundreds of thousands who have missed out on needed care.”
In light of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections scheduled for May 2022, dental professionals are calling on all parties to commit to a new approach in order to ensure that dental care in Northern Ireland can meet the challenges of the pandemic. Points to be considered include a new oral health strategy to reduce oral health inequalities, the creation of a new General Dental Services contract to secure the future of dentistry and the provision of the necessary resources at the Department of Health in order to advance major reforms.
“With an election possibly just months away, these figures underline why dentistry must be on every party’s agenda. Our message to every MLA [member of the legislative assembly], candidate, and party is simple: it is high time to give oral health the priority it desperately needs, and to build back better,” Graham emphasised.
The full report was published online on 22 June 2021 and can be viewed here.