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Routine dental care is allowed to resume in Northern Ireland from Monday, July 20th. There will be some restrictions, including up to one hour between some patients being seen, so surgeries can be cleaned. However some dentists say a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) means that not all practices here can fully reopen. Sarah Brett speaks to Alan Clarke who works at a dental practice in north Belfast.
Dentists reopened today but a row continues over what treatment you can receive, with NHS dentists unable to perform 'aerosol' procedures such as fillings.
If you’re prepared to pay, private dentists have access to enhanced PPE, which one NHS dentist explained is unviable for them because the cost is "more expensive than the cost of charging a patient to have it done”.
Gillian Lennox, a dentist in Forth Valley, says it is a “really unhelpful situation”. It's not that NHS dentists don’t want to carry out fillings, she says, but they are just following the route map set out by the Scottish government and chief dental officer Tom Ferris.
"It’s the age-old adage: if you’ve got the money, you can get it," she told BBC Radio Scotland. "That's where we’re at at the moment."
Ms Lennox points out that most private dentists are actually following NHS guidance – they are not doing all routine treatment, but are able to provide emergency treatment that NHS dentists currently have to refer on to one of the country's 71 hubs.
"Some private practices will just do emergency treatment; others are making the decision that they will carry out routine procedures just now," she says, pointing out private dentists have not received any government support during the pandemic.
The Scotsman wonders whether, as NHS dental services are currently prevented from doing any procedures using aerosols, are patients attending private practices in some kind of danger?
National clinical director Jason Leitch says "dentists are not putting anybody at risk" - they are well trained in infections and protection control, they all have adequate PPE and are inspected appropriately.
Prof Leitch says that as part of the government's route-map out of lockdown, private sections of the dental system were asked to follow the same pathway out as NHS services. "That guidance is there," he says.
Tom Ferris, the country's chief dental officer, is "very keen to get NHS practices, as soon as we can, with the full gamut of care,” he adds.
Mornings with Kaye Adams
BBC Radio Scotland
Dr Ambi Jeyabalan, a dentist in Glasgow, tells Kaye Adams that patients will undergo a Covid-19 screening process before appointments and again when they arrive at the surgery.
"They are emailed their medical screening, which they can email back once they’re booked in," she says. "That Covid screening is done again at the door when they arrive to make sure everything is OK before they are let in. They have to use the hand gel we provide and wear a mask."
Because most surgeries are limited to a one-person-in, one-person-out policy, they are trying to limit the amount of time people are at the dentists.
"They don’t really get a chance to go in the waiting room, it is straight into the surgery, and they can’t bring somebody along to hold their hand as such, apart from obviously with children and carers. We are trying to minimise contact as much as possible."
This is a gradual progression for NHS dental practices, Dr Jeyabalan explains, whereas the guidelines are slightly different for private practices.
"It needs to be done correctly, with proper risk assessments, for the safety of patients and our teams," she adds.